Considering the background of the musicians involved in Sumac, this fact might not be too surprising, but it’s more than worth reiterating: May You Be Held, the latest album from the experimental post-metal trio Sumac, feels staggeringly powerful.
May You Be Held drops on Oct. 2 via Thrill Jockey Records, and Sumac features vocalist/ guitarist Aaron Turner, bassist Brian Cook, and drummer Nick Yacyshyn, whose backgrounds include the post-metal group ISIS, the post-metal group Russian Circles, and the heavy and noisy hardcore punk group Baptists, respectively. On their latest album, the trio has used a post-metal and sludge metal palette to paint a richly immersive musical journey into soundscapes of simmering tension with a shimmering and sincere self-reflection at the core.
Listening feels like venturing through a dangerous jungle. This jungle — these sounds — they’re all part of our both personal and collective human experience, and the roaring extremity within the music provides an opportunity to escape mundanity and find a sense of fullness — chaos and all.
The album follows its entirely own path, which might be familiar to past Sumac listeners. Songs build and retract with rhythms that devolve into searing drone, which in turn provides the launching point for elements like the album’s consistent stream of absolutely earth-rattling hits of heaviness, like the physically intense and even somewhat psychedelically mind-boggling rhythms that appear towards the end of “Consumed,” which ends with a triumphant tidal wave of raging fury.
The final lyrics of “Consumed” feel memorably poignant. Turner roars: “Now up from the pit/ to walk the soaking soil… Each breath a hymn/ to a world reborn.”
Elsewhere, the title track varies from its ferocious opening to the sludgy, slow riffs of its latter half and the methodical rhythmic hits of the conclusion, “The Iron Chair” packs distorted waves of ambient guitar with a low resonance alongside energetic drum blasts, and “Consumed” features softer, slower melodies just before its midpoint. The gently building ambiance of the album’s wordless concluding track, “Laughter & Silence,” drives in the sense that the heaviness of the record is pushing towards some kind of bliss that’s just through the metaphorical thicket.
Calling the guiding spirit of the album “emotional” would feel too vague. The experiential songs feel like turning pain into power, and the album works through this process without any lies about the grueling tension that can still spread across those developments. “Making it through” doesn’t mean that the pain — or pummeling drum rhythms or searing riffs — from past stages suddenly disappear.
May You Be Held contains a soaring experience of pushing through tension — and when the band does settle into segments of more straightforwardly direct riffing and drum rhythms, the impact feels monumental.
Sumac excavates this power from the midst of drone-led, musical reflections of emotional chaos. The trio frequently stops to linger on upheaved musical ideas, and they always return to a center path through the thicket.