Across great deserts and through quickly thinning jungles the corporeal self begins to wear down to tendon and bone underfoot. The feet are the first pangs to resist but all pales compared to a hunger sustained only by yet unsated destination. A sect of walking sokushinbutsu on this third leg of our sojourn, relief comes on the dirt roads of Bagan as the forests sprout ten thousand crumbling temples and pagodas. On this march towards death and enlightenment the spiral temples signal a welcome source of energy and rest. As if a garden of stone and grass were sculpted by meticulous giants for thousands of years, the green and the grey beckon to travelers in the day and conjure all matter of intoxicating spirits by night. Here we cast the robes away from our skin and bones in the dark to entrance unto clarity through ritual, mantra, and tantric dance. For the first one thousand nights every matter of temple-housed spirit would pour from the nearest temple to be freed of their eternal stillness and curl as the smoke of a smoldering lamp. New Brunswick, Canada based psychedelic doom metal band Zaum channel this moment of earned spiritual freedom within three heavily atmospheric mantra to connect the astral and the physical on their third full-length ‘Divination’.
Zaum formed in 2013 as a duo featuring percussionist Chris Lewis (Iron Giant) and Kyle McDonald (Shevil) who’d both been active in the far-eastern Canada stoner rock and doom for a number of years. Their first two records ‘Oracles’ (2014) and ‘Eidolon’ (2016) came as a shot out of the blue, a fully formed and dramatically achieved sort of stoner doom metal that would be described as ‘ritualistic’ by many and undoubtedly psychedelic by all. The trance of psychedelia was felt but each song they’d write up to the point wasn’t so far removed from the heft and structures of modern stoner/doom metal. Bands like Om, Saturnalia Temple, and Bong had long created grand dark and meditative pieces of doom but Zaum was different, a but more like Dark Buddha Rising in the sense that a doom riff still drove the way forward at all times. ‘Divinations’ doesn’t stray far from that place and field though the three pieces within express as ritualistic mind-body meditations rather than structured doom metal songs.
Zaum‘s vision is not necessarily ‘jammed’ or improvised in tone but, features an atmosphere packed with a wide range of differently weighted values. Overdriven basslines glide and buzz atop the pace provided by relatively simple rock beats with clangorous guitar and sitar providing a central focus in unison. Scores of percussion and synth all fill that middle layer of the mix while the bass tone pushes to the outer reaches of the recording’s presence, rounding it out and ‘containing’ the performance. The great disruptor and igniter of the guitar is surely the vocals provided by McDonald who stretches from a roar to a stone-faced wall of chanting doom from song to song. “Relic” begins to reach towards the ritualistic sludge roar of Dark Buddha Rising whereas “Pantheon” will feel a bit more familiar in terms of performance, closer to the previous album ‘Eidolon’. “Procession” is entirely different with a subdued state that’ll give way to a heavier second half akin to Ufomammut‘s ‘Idolum’ if it were performed by Om circa 2007. Where I’d say Zaum create more interest than the number of comparable groups in their periphery comes with the addition of keyboardist/performer Nawal Doucette who provides an extra layer to the projects already full sound.
The danger of venturing into the space of meditation within heavy music is that you risk alleviating the mind of the listener without sticking to it, as is the case with most meditative composition. ‘Divination’ is no different in the sense that it must be ritualized to be remembered and even then I think Zaum have created a record that goes in one ear, does the listener some good, and pours right out the other side. There is darkness and focus in the heavier spectacle of each composition here but when left on loop ‘Divination’ does become background music. This wasn’t the case with the previous records and I found myself somewhat unsatisfied without any truly captivating or memorable grooves that’d made me such a fan on ‘Oracles’ and its nicely polished follow-up. Lovely sound design and an almost raw, buzzing exterior does lift me away from the warm sleepiness of ‘Divination’ but not enough to keep me fully engaged on repeat listens. I was a bit torn on my recommendation of ‘Divination’ in the sense that a calm search within the self is something every one needs, though I’m not sure the demographic could sit still long enough to gain any meaning from it. So, I’d ultimately have to give moderate-to-high recommend to Zaum‘s third album as it didn’t stick with me but there was some reasonable value in repeating the experience. For preview the most exemplar piece I’d recommend starting with is in fact the 18+ minute opener “Relic”, though I’m not sure the other two tracks rise to the bar set.
Om mani padme hum. 3.5/5.0
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