ReviewsSumac – The Healer (Thrill Jockey)

Sumac – The Healer (Thrill Jockey)

It is rare within music to find an artist who personifies “integrity”. An artist who is willing to eschew commercial success in order to follow their muse, their true North. They’re a dime a dozen, and off the top of my head, I can name Aaron Turner. Isis was at the top of their game, critical and commercial darlings who didn’t need day jobs anymore. Highly praised records, incendiary live performances, they had it all. And yet, Aaron Turner felt like it didn’t cover all the bases, that his band didn’t and won’t go where it needed to. After 13 years, Isis was no more, with the pretext that the musical entity has said everything they wanted to say.

Thus, the hulking behemoth called Sumac was born out of a desire to meld structured songs with improvisational passages. No clean singing, nothing but pure feral riff after feral riff, anchored by the dream team rhythm section of Brian Cook and Nick Yacyshyn. Their records showed gradual shifts towards incorporating improvisational sections, Keiji Haino’s influence and guidance included.

2024 marks a decade of Sumac’s existence, and with it, their newest and most realized record yet, The Healer. 4 tracks that span 76 minutes of exploratory passages, knotty riffing, pugilistic tempos, and all-out battery tempered by the most savage vocals known to man. “World of Light” opens the album, and it definitely doesn’t reward listeners looking for immediate gratification. But the patient audience will nevertheless find joy in immersing themselves in the tracks’ gradual march to a punishing minute where the gloves come off. You just have to traverse 20 minutes of negative space, metallic drones, melancholy guitars, all artfully put together in an exercise of patience and attention. It pays beautifully in the end. Sole lead track “Yellow Dawn” opens with some calm and reassuring keys from Faith Coloccia but let it lull you to complacency: this track will rip your head off. “Yellow Dawn” boasts Turner’s most unhinged “guitar solo” yet, and for fans of his solo releases such as To Speak and Repression’s Blossom, this means they’re definitely in for a treat. As he wrings the bejesus out of his guitar, the song is masterfully grounded by Brian’s fuzzrocious bass and Nick’s skull-shattering drumming. All this while Aaron also sings about life affirming emotions, a marvelously strange juxtaposition that only SUMAC can perform.

“New Rites” rears its head innocuous at first, before it bares its’ fangs, sinking them deep in the unsuspecting listener, poisonous pummeling and labyrinthine passages running deep into the bloodstream. Needless to say, it’s a song that will definitely leave a mark. Closer “The Stone’s Turn” exhibits the greatest departure from Sumac’s esteemed body of work and yet it feels unerringly right at home with their previous LPs. Perhaps it is best described as a Keiji Haino collaboration without sensei Haino himself. This song perfectly encapsulated the goal of melding improvisational with the intentional, the sum of ten years’ worth of an artistic journey that began with a musician’s dissatisfaction with the status quo.

For this reviewer, who has faithfully followed the band since its’ inception, there’s nothing better than seeing an artist you admire risk failing and end up making a musical entity with a body of work whose integrity and quality should set the bar for any artist worth their salt. Commercial success be damned, strive for purity, follow your muse, succeed with integrity intact. This world needs more of it.

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10 / 10