Six albums into their career, SUMAC stretch the limits of what Metal can be with The Healer (Thrill Jockey Records) — a four-song, 76-minute double album of fluid, evolving, at times seemingly freeform Jazz Metal that requires some patience, but impresses with its expressiveness and creativity.  

Fronted by former ISIS mainman Aaron Turner and with drummer Nick Yacyshyn having hit sticks for Crust Punk band Baptists and bassist Brian Cook a part of powerful Atmospheric-Metal group Russian Circles SUMAC has a rich collection of heavy, musical inputs. The band has also been going for ten years at this point. If they had anything to prove at the start, they sure seem comfortable doing whatever the hell they want now.    

SUMAC are not unfamiliar with going long (2018’s Love In Shadow was also four tracks that ranged from 12 to 20+ minutes), but The Healer seems to be a marked progression into the realms of deconstruction. 

At times the record gives a flavour of Khanate (though much less traumatic), largely refusing to settle for a headbanging riff, or sometimes even a backbeat! The album opens and closes with two 25-minute monsters in “World Of Light” and “The Stone’s Turn.” The former warms up through 12 minutes of crashing drums and hypnotic drones before opening into some gorgeous guitar shapes and rhythms reminiscent of JESU. Some interesting guitar lines follow that seem to give a nod to sometime-touring-partners Oxbow (a recurring association on the album). 

More interesting transitions follow before the band throws in a thundering groove at 24 minutes, then closes the track before the listener gets too comfortable. 

You might reasonably decide before the end of the first track that life’s too short for all the build-up and apparent dicking around. It’s hard to begrudge such an assessment, because The Healer can test your patience if you aren’t in the mood. If you are down, though, the jamminess and the continual shifting throughout the album can be pretty fascinating (and rewarding). 

“Yellow Dawn” enters into some kind of space-rocking wig-outs, that you might more easily groove to (just with some 5/4, 8/4 and who knows what other time signatures to keep the listener on their toes), while there’s some more beautiful guitars peppered through “New Rites.” Around halfway into the closing track, fuzzed-out guitars lead what’s kind of like “Maggot Brain” by Funkadelic filtered through Slint

All the while with Turner’s growled, semi-Death-Metal vocals (with occasional shards of vulnerability poking through) it feels like this is a Metal album, but Turner also has a kind of strangely clanging guitar tone that feels more like it would fit a Noise Rock setting. 

It really is hard to put your finger on what exactly The Healer is. The band will be playing the Vancouver International Jazz Festival and perhaps this can help to get a sense of how SUMAC see themselves. 

Full marks for doing whatever the hell they want and credit due for the breadth and depth of ideas on this album. It’s not background music, and not the most obvious soundtrack for getting down to. Bless their souls for making this music though, no one else is doing it quite like this. 


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8 / 10