Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. Following on from last week’s examination of Om’s ‘Advaitic Songs’, this time we’re looking at their 2009 outing ‘God Is Good’.
Last week, we took a look back a classic of 2010s stoner rock: Om’s ‘Advaitic Songs’. That article (which you can read here) was so well received that it seems only appropriate to likewise examine the group’s other release from the venerable Drag City: 2009’s ‘God Is Good’. It was a record that represented a pivotal moment of change for the band; born from the fragmentation of doom metal goliaths Sleep, Om’s explorations of Eastern spirituality through the power of the riff had mellowed somewhat by their 2006 sophomore effort ‘Conference Of The Birds’. The crushing walls of fuzz hadn’t receded entirely, but a subtle, lilting vision of psychedelia had largely taken their place. It was an evolution cemented by ‘God Is Good’ – an album difficult to place in any one style or mode. That’s for the best, of course; it confirmed Om as a band of individualists and lent them an audience which extended beyond the confines of the niche, yet ardent, doom metal fanbase that their earlier outings had attracted. A relatively brief outing at just over half an hour, ‘God Is Good’s centrepiece is the twenty minute ‘Thebes’; it’s a statement of intent as much as anything – and it certainly ranks amongst the most ambitious of frontman Al Cisneros’ compositions. Part swirling raga and part stoner-doom explosion, it drifts into being with sitar and searching, modal bass before enjoying a boost of rocket fuel that sends it into the stratosphere. Impressively, it’s a composition that justifies its runtime with ease; when the group do give into the beckoning embrace of heaviness, it’s with a degree of sophistication befitting of their more pensive moments. Perhaps inevitably, ‘Thebes’ casts a long shadow over the album’s other half. Side two’s suite of three shorter compositions is still impressive but it lacks the visceral punch of the epically-scaled opener. Ultimately ‘God Is Good’ serves as a tool for transition between the feral crunch of their earlier work and the sublime subtleties of 2012’s ‘Advaitic Songs’ but, even so, it shouldn’t be overlooked.
Long-term readers should be familiar with Drag City by now; aside from being one of America’s best independent labels, we’ve also featured their releases many a-time here on Vinyl Corner and we’ve always been impressed by their output. It’s of little surprise, then, that ‘God Is Good’ is no exception to this rule. One of the label’s most refreshing characteristics is their refusal to give into the gimmicks of often-noisy limited edition colour vinyl pressings around which so many labels base their output. As with practically everything Drag City have released, ‘God Is Good’ is a rock solid, no-nonsense pressing on well-pressed heavyweight black vinyl. Pressed by America’s ever-excellent Record Technology Incorporated, this is a consistently impressive LP with really tidy sound throughout. The noise floor is low – a characteristic of much of RTI’s output – and playback yields very little in the way of imperfections. We picked up on barely a crackle anywhere across our copy – even during the sections of muted ambience that so often serve as counterpoint to the group’s native heaviness. The mastering is similarly impressive, although that should be no surprise considering that a quick glance at the matrices reveal this to have been mastered by industry veteran John Golden. Not only that, but ‘God Is Good’ was produced by the great Steve Albini, whose fastidiously puritanical approach to sonic realism and high-fidelity makes the clarity found throughout the album no surprise at all.
Although we mostly had nothing but good things to say about Drag City’s excellent vinyl release of Om’s ‘Advaitic Songs’, one thing we did note was that it would have been nice to have the cover manufactured from a higher-grade of cardstock. That is certainly not an issue with the ‘God Is Good’s cover; the cardstock employed here is very weighty, making this one of the most attractively presented releases we’ve written about for quite some time at Vinyl Corner. The jacket is a tip-on sleeve fashioned in the same style as the expensive, luxurious card sleeves commonly found on American vinyl releases from the ’50s and ’60s. It’s weighty, substantial and it feels great in hand; even better, the beautiful artwork is accented with gold foil stamping that shines brilliantly when caught in the light. As with the vast majority of Drag City releases, the barcode has been sagely placed as a sticker on the shrinkwrap rather than printed directly onto the sleeve. It’s a pet peeve of ours at Vinyl Corner when barcodes are printed directly onto sleeves; it’s a visual blemish unwelcome at the best of times but on an album with an art direction as classy as ‘God Is Good’ it would have been especially unwelcome so it’s particularly pleasing to see the barcode on a sticker with this release. Finishing off the presentation is a printed inner sleeve featuring credits, lyrics and images. These kinds of inserts are always a welcome addition to the presentation but in this case it’s particularly impressive as the sleeve is made from a really solid cardstock, whereas many such inserts are made from lower quality paper.
‘God Is Good’ may not be Om’s finest moment but it is still a great album from a band incapable of crafting anything less. Drag City’s vinyl release is especially impressive, even set against their own high standards of quality. The packaging and presentation is superb, as the quality of the vinyl pressing and mastering.
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