Old Man Gloom. The name alone doesn’t exactly have you predicting lightweight, easy on the ear songs about fluffy bunnies, leprechauns, pots o’ gold and rainbows, or even about how some chick drove you to daytime television, does it? It makes you think metal, which, for some of the time, ‘Christmas’ is. Some of the time…
Y’see, when you’re a band comprised of members of Cave In, Converge and Isis, the last thing you want to play all the time is metal. You’d much rather drone yourself out for a bit, or add a little acoustic guitar to throw listeners off your metal scent. Yeah, you’d do that. Only then you’d kick right back into riffs larger than Giant Haystacks’ weekly shopping budget and shatter your listeners’ teeth with volume so terrifying that your record, this record, should carry an R rating. For Isis frontman Aaron Turner’s gut-trembling vocals alone it deserves some kind of warning. He could scare the Candyman, that freaky clown from It_, your mother-in-law and all the aliens from _Aliens away with no more than a gentle sigh. No shit… is exactly what you’ll have in your body after 45 minutes in his company.
Turner’s not the only person taking a vocal turn on ‘Christmas’; on ‘Volcano’, Oxbow’s Eugene Robinson adds some words of wisdom that barely register (so, to be fair, they might not be wise at all). But be warned – turn the volume up to hear them and be prepared for pain, as Turner, and his gargantuan riffs, are waiting just a few minutes in, along with drums that sound like a nuclear war between gods. It’s all a far cry from how proceedings were opened: ‘Gift’ is just that, an opening track that breaks you in gently, its acoustic strums blinding you to what lies around the next bend, the appropriately named ‘Skullstorm’. Really, with a name like that do you need me to explain how it goes?
And so it progresses – maximum volume and raging metal is balanced skilfully with drone and ambience to create a record that is so much more than the mere sum of its considerably talented parts. To pigeonhole it as metal would be wrong; likewise to liken it to post-rock releases would be serving ‘Christmas’ an injustice. Basically, if you’ve read this far the chances are that you’re already either won over OR already know all about Old Man Gloom, so me deconstructing it note for note isn’t going to achieve anything, apart from deafness on my part. Last year’s ‘Christmas Eve...’ release – reprised here in an alternate version(s) – served as a mighty, appetite-whetting curtain-raiser; ‘Christmas’ confirms what fans of that release, and the three albums before it, knew all along – there are few bands with the genetic make up and base-level talent in alternative music circles to touch Old Man Gloom. Even when they're obviously dicking about they can wipe the floor with all but a handful of progressive-thinking metellers. So they’ve a stupid name? I don’t see you saying that to their faces.
If Isis’s forthcoming record betters this it’ll be the best metal - to use the term loosely - album of 2004. Do the math…
9Mike Diver's Score