Om - Live Conference (2009)
Let me start off this review by saying that if you have never heard Om, this is not the album for you to go out and buy. Om has released 4 studio albums and 3 split/singles, so go for one (any) of those first if this review sparks your curiosity. The reason for this caveat is that this band is one of the most original forces to emerge in the metal universe in quite some time. consisting of Al Cisneros (of Sleep) on bass and vocals and Emil Amos (Grails) on drums, this band blends monotonic, Tibetan-chant style vocals with half time drum and bass rhythms that border on religiosity because of the heaviness therein. Seriously, they're amazing and deserve to be heard at their best.
While I am not implying that Live Conference (named so because it is a live rendition of their studio album Conference of the Birds) doesn't deserve to be heard, it will give you a very skewed perspective on the act if its all you've ever heard from them. Conference of the Birds is executed with such devoted regularity in rhythm that it very well cause you to get a little closer to escaping samsara if you listen to it enough. And so it goes with all of Om's studio releases; very long, very meditative reflections an all sorts of eastern-religion themed concepts, and all without the use of pronouns. Live Conference is not played this way, and its apparent from even the first few notes of "Flight of the Eagle", the first of 2 tracks. The song is has a much higher tempo than the album version, and than Om's other live release (Live at Jerusalem). Cisneros takes the relatively simple rhythm parts from the original song and absolutely goes insane with them. Theres a great deal of improvisation and it strays pretty far from the studio ideal most of the time. It isn't that its badly executed; its well above and beyond the technicality you will hear from most bassists with record deals. What makes it so unnerving is that its almost the diametric opposite of the aesthetic of the studio version of Conference. All that said, it still rocks really fucking hard.
"At Giza" (track 2/2), in this reviewer's, opinion, actually manages to improve on the original. Where the studio version had a good sense of dynamics and tension, the live one amplifies these senses five fold. The newly introduced changes in tempo between sections go very far toward reinforcing the mystical and mysterious atmosphere of the song, and the extra sense of dynamics from a live recording (where there isn't a fuckload of multiband compression piled on) fit the song extremely well.
The production quality of this live recording is very good. Listening on my M-Audio monitors I could hear even the ambiance of the crowd and room in extreme clarity, and Cisneros manages to get his bass to sound more or less the way it does on the studio version of Conference. At times the drumming has a bit of a strange dynamic insofar as the volume individual hits can vary pretty widely, but none of them are obnoxiously loud or too soft to hear clearly.
All in all, this is a record for pre-existing Om fans, and not even all of those. If you are shallow enough to be afraid that your view of the band will be permanently altered by this record in light of the changes I mentioned, stay away from it. If you have never heard Om before, stay away from it. If neither of those apply to you, its a pretty enjoyable listen that offers an new perspective on a monumental studio album.
Production - 9
Composition - 7
Originality - 7
Overall - 7.6
NOTE: YouTube doesn't have anything straight from the Live Conference album so here's a different, more true-to-the-original performance instead