Friday Full-Length: Om, Conference of the Birds


Submitted perhaps a tad early for consideration as classic: The second full-length from Om, Conference of the Birds. Comprised of two extended pieces, “At Giza” (15:56) and “Flight of the Eagle” (17:27), the 33-minute LP was first issued in 2006 through Holy Mountain, which has kept it largely in-print since no doubt because of its continued resonance.

Al Cisnernos and Chris Hakius had debuted the year prior with Variations on a Theme (discussed here), which although it was just two years after the posthumous release of Dopesmoker by their prior outfit, Sleep, it felt both akin and a world removed from that single-song stoner metal epic. Om dug into expanse, to be sure, but effectively turned the formula on its head by leaving the room in the mix a guitar might otherwise occupy open and relying on bass and drums alone. That such a thing became so common in the years following is in no small part owed to Cisneros and Hakius proving it could be done.

But where Variations on a Theme was rawer in presentation and rendered somewhat transitional in hindsight compared to the increasingly complex path Om would take on subsequent offerings, Conference of the Birds, and particularly the bulk of “At Giza” as it builds to its apex across the first 13 minutes, demonstrated a vision of ‘heavy’ that didn’t need to be loud to make its point. Hypnotic like psych and maybe informed a bit by Earth‘s steady droning, but clear in tone, that setting forth across the quiet verses of “At Giza,” with Hakius soft tom and cymbal hits lending movement under a signature bassline, and Cisneros building on the vocal approach of the first album, but confident enough in it the next time around to sing over a quiet part and use his voice as an instrument along with the bass and drums.

Cisneros subtly holds out the last line of the last of the nine verses in “At Giza” — one might divide it into movements of the first three and the next six with the transition between them marked by the cymbal wash and change of bass and vocal pattern at four minutes in — so that from, “The rite of fall sealed/Cremation now reclaims/Cows toward the sun and sheds the object form,” the last two words almost sound like they have an extra syllable, but their echo is swallowed as the louder progression begins at 13:10. Hakius meets the change with fluidity as he invariably would. The kick drum hits harder and the taps of snare are more pointed in the rhythm and fills.

It’s arguable that “At Giza” alone, particularly in its chant-like early going, opaque spiritual theme and purposefully repetitive construction, is where “meditative doom” was born, and the fact that its louder and outright dirtier in tone final section feels so utterly cleansing when you’re listening to it feels like a vision being realized for what Om could be. With the recording helmed by Billy Anderson (with om conference of the birdsadditional engineering from Kevin Lemon and the band as co-producer), who also tracked Variations on a Theme and Sleep‘s genre landmarks, Conference of the Birds was where Cisneros and Hakius began the process of distinguishing Om as something separate from their former band. Still the same people, still some similarities of purpose, but in “At Giza” and the tantric roll of “Flight of the Eagle” as it takes up the distorted push that capped the song before, Om stood apart in intention and sound alike. They became their own thing, in other words, and their doing so would prove influential in its own right.

One might liken the flow of “Flight of the Eagle,” its more outward volume and distortion — still clearer in the production, mind you — as closer to where Om had been the year prior, but in its reaches as well one finds Cisneros more comfortable vocally, and the patience with which the track oozes through its malleable-in-tempo course works in complement to “At Giza”‘s quieter contemplations while feeling like a linear extrapolation from its ending. As “At Giza” was itself a build, “Flight of the Eagle” answers the ethereal serenity with earthier lumber while residing very much in the same mood so central to Conference of the Birds in the first place. Om were still exploring, still becoming, growing, but while they worked on a quick turnaround in terms of planetary orbits from the preceding LP, they had also begun to figure out who they were going to be, what they wanted their music to say, and how.

Whether you listen in the framing of what Hakius and Cisneros had done before or how Om developed after — they worked with producer Steve Albini (R.I.P. May 7, 2024) on their next two albums; 2007’s Pilgrimage was their third LP and first through Southern Lord, as well as Hakius‘ final release with the band before Emil Amos (Grails, Holy Sons, etc.) took up the drummer position; multi-instrumentalist Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe would make his first multi-instrumental contributions to 2009’s God is Good (review here) and go on to become a fully-fledged third touring member — Conference of the Birds is a step along the way, but a crucial one.

Loud or quiet, their music became the mantra to which their moniker seemed to allude, and to those who already knew the duo from their work in Sleep, “At Giza” and “Flight of the Birds” demonstrated that those whose neurology let them find comfort in aural heft and a place for themselves within grooving largesse could do the same in a calmer space. And as heavy or loud as Conference of the Birds gets, the striving for peace in “At Giza,” whatever that means to a given listener, feeds into the impression of “Flight of the Birds” gorgeously enough that the two are best experienced side-by-side.

Not a year goes by without somebody mentioning a long-awaited follow-up to Om‘s 2012 LP, the singularly glorious Advaitic Songs (review here), among their most-anticipated releases. As the band themselves are a reminder we live in a universe of infinite possibilities, I won’t say such a thing would never happen — Cisneros spent a decent portion of the 2010s back in Sleep, but Om still play as the three-piece of CisnerosAmos and guitarist/keyboardist Tyler Trotter; they released the live album BBC Radio 1 (review here) in 2019 — but it certainly hasn’t yet. I wish I had more to say about it than “maybe, maybe-not, hope so,” but I don’t.

The 18 years since it came out has only underscored how much Om accomplished in Conference of the Birds and it still carries an impact that is soulful very much in its own way. As always, I hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading.

I didn’t write an obituary for Steve Albini and I probably won’t. I was never really into Shellac, Big Black or the sundry other bands he did whose names have been largely swept under Gen-X’s “it was okay to say rascist shit before 1998” rug, and while I value the work resulting from his time producing records for the likes of Om, Neurosis, High on Fire, Stinking Lizaveta, Weedeater, Nirvana, and so on, as well as his persistent outspokenness about corporate infringement on art, I don’t feel qualified to comment.

Further, having done a Friday Full-Length just last week already looking through a memorial lens, the solace of Conference of the Birds made sense to me more than diving into either God is Good or Pilgrimage, which are probably the two Om records I least reach for. I guess I’m not trying to perform grief, in other words, and if you want to take that as an ethic of honesty influenced by Albini himself, a kind of roundabout tribute, fine. I understand a lot of people took it hard and I respect that enough not to pretend I’m so emotionally affected.

This weekend is Mother’s Day. I know that too can be emotionally loaded for some. I am fortunate to have my mother in my life — her first knee replacement is booked for May 22; she needs it — and fortunate to have my wife as The Pecan’s mother, her sister and my sister as mothers to our niece and nephews. As culturally internalized as they’ve become, I feel somewhat obstinate in my position that Hallmark holidays are bullshit across the board — so for that matter are Labor Day, Memorial Day, Patriots Day, and so on — but you can’t really argue when faced with the fact of owing your literal existence to another person.

So we’re doing brunch. Tomorrow. Upwards of 17 people by the most recent count. I’ve been cleaning most of the week and still have vacuuming to do. Also spent a good amount of time this week on fest-guide writeups for the Freak Valley Festival lineup — chipping away at the last of them today, I hope, though I also need to do a plus-sized grocery shopping as a matter of pre-Kindergarten-pickup priority — and a couple testimonials for European bands coming the States this Fall (nobody that hasn’t already been announced). This is my way of saying the week has been a lot and I’m glad it’s over.

That is tempered somewhat by next week and at least half the week after (still slating stuff) being Quarterly Reviews. Stupid, but gotta be done, both for bigger records that I feel like I should be covering — High on Fire, Pallbearer, Uncle Acid, Bongripper, Inter Arma, etc. — and a bunch of other awesome shit that’s come in/out in the last few months or is upcoming. So I’m gonna dig in as much as I can and do as much as I can.

See you there on Monday. Whatever you’re up to in the interim, have a great and safe weekend. Again, thank you for reading.


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