Sumac played Great Scott – 8/20

sumac-1Experimental sludge metal trio Sumac headlined Great Scott on Saturday night, touring in support of their towering sophomore LP (and Thrill Jockey debutWhat One Becomes

I refer to Sumac as “experimental sludge metal” for the sake of genre shorthand, but allow me to immediately undermine myself here and clarify that the band resists simple classification. Their sound is rooted in sludge and post-metal, but unpredictably adventurous songwriting and touches of noise and dark ambience render their work its own entity entirely. Headed by former Isis guitarist/vocalist and metal scene omnipresence Aaron Turner, Sumac is a supergroup of sorts featuring Baptists drummer Nick Yacyshyn and Russian Circles bassist Brian Cook. What One Becomes is the band’s second full-length in as many years, and spreads five multi-part epics over the course of one uncompromising hour. It’s some of the year’s most challenging and fascinating heavy music, and its live presentation followed suit.

The volatility at the core of these songs becomes even more pronounced on stage, where the trio succeeds in immersing an audience in its own chaotic universe. The sharp dynamic shifts become all the more visceral with the volume and proximity of a small club like Great Scott. Turner’s aluminum-necked guitars ring with a powerful bite, and he coaxes tension from the set’s quieter moments. Bursts of earsplitting feedback and pedal-crunched noise twist together, disappearing and reappearing before the full band unexpectedly kicks in again. Yacyshyn’s ferocious drumming must be witnessed firsthand to be fully appreciated. His manic but precise style suits Turner’s turbulent vision perfectly. Cook, though technically an “auxiliary member” of the group, brings an essential low-end counterpoint to the table. Together, the three are a seismic force delivering one of the most intense power-trio live shows around.

Support for Saturday’s show ran an eclectic gamut (sort of like the bill where I first saw Sumac opening for Neurosis last year), with Seattle artist Monika Khot performing first as Nordra. Khot’s set wove haunting vocals and heavily processed guitar together with industrial-tinged electronic soundscapes in eerily beautiful ways. Jaye Jayle, led by Young Widows vocalist/guitarist Evan Patterson, followed up with a full-band set of churning rock songs that evoked a sinister southern gothic vibe. I’m always a fan of metal bands touring with unconventional and atmospheric openers, so this was a perfectly curated night in my book. Photos from all three sets below.

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