Back in 2000, members ofIsis, Converge, Cave In and Zozobra united under the name Old Man Gloom. The anti-supergroup wrote jarring songs combining sludgy riffs, roaring vocals and tumbling beats with off-kilter rhythms and eerie, ambient soundscapes. The group recorded four captivating full-lengths and three EPs, then disappeared into an acrid, sulfur-scented cloud for eight years, its members pursuing their separate concerns.
Then, in early 2012, Isisfrontman Aaron Turner announced that Old Man Gloom would tour again in May and at the dates they’d be selling a new vinyl-only album no one even knew they had recorded. Now available for mass consumption, No (produced by Converge’s Kurt Ballou) is a seamless evolution from 2004′s Christmas, with a few sonic modifications. While the crushing rhythms and scalding riffs are as caustic as ever, there’s an even greater variety of dissonance and atmospherics. “Carry the Flame” starts with a sonic temper tantrum of rumbling, low-end hardcore, then shifts into a passage of layered melodic guitars and tribal drumming before building back into a turbulent display of trudging guitar-based aggression, concluding with a minute of freeform feedback that resembles a band leaving their instruments onstage at full volume and walking off.
Elsewhere, Old Man Gloom rely more on synthetic experimentation. “Grand Inversion” features a mix of ear-piercing keyboard whines, crackling radio static and melancholy organ chimes, and the harrowing 14-minute “Shuddering Earth” can be broken into two equally mind-blowing sections. The first opens with stuttering beats and asymmetrical riffs reminiscent of The Dillinger Escape Plan, then segues into a series of sparse minor-key guitar lines overlapped with grating noises and unintelligible vocal screams. A pregnant pause later and Old Man Gloom are back to a dinosaur lumber that’s abruptly cut off by bowel-shaking electronic hums, screeching, undulating feedback, tape squelches and other disconcerting sound effects that approach the unadulterated chaos of Merzbow or Skullflower. For those who value deafening sludge, frenzied hardcore and extreme ambient music, No is as beautiful as it is ugly.