If you haven’t heard of OM, here’s a quick history lesson: In the mid-1990s, the Doom Metal landscape was briefly dominated by Sleep. Their brush with commercial success scored them a deal with a record company that gave them complete artistic control over their next album. Sleep took that freedom and recorded an hour-long song called Dopesmoker. What was supposed to be the band’s magnum opus cut them down at the knees when the band struggled to play the song on the album and in front of crowds—and their record company completely rejected the concept.
Sleep never recovered. After the fallout, drummer Chris Hakius and bassist Al Cisneros formed OM, a Doom/Drone Metal band notable for incorporating elements of Tibetan and Byzantine chant into their musical. Performing primarily with a bass, drums, and a synthesizer, OM is a mixture that is equal parts heavy, soft, hypnotic, and spiritual.
Although OM has been around since 2003—which means it has existed for longer than Sleep ever ran—the band has struggled to gain the same commercial success the members had as part of Sleep. But it doesn’t seem to matter. OM enjoys a strong cult following, and the band packed Spirit to the brim.
The Venue: Spirit
Spirit (also called the Spirit Hall & Lodge) is tucked away on the north end of 51st Street in Pittsburgh’s artsy Lawrenceville neighborhood (for the locals, that means it’s just an easy turn off Butler Street).
Spirit features a downstairs bar and dance floor as well as a ballroom and bar upstairs. The venue is Spartan in its design and decoration, with simple, rugged chairs, tables, and other amenities scattered about.
The night OM and Wovenhand performed, only the upstairs section was open, offering enough room for a few hundred people to catch the bands play on a simple stage set about four feet above the ground. Like Westside Bowl in our Truckfighters concert review, Spirit had a small selection of LED house lights for the bands to work with.
The biggest benefit of Spirit was its intimate size. Being such a small venue, it’s easy for patrons to get up close and personal with the band. For OM and Wovenhand, that meant fans were pressed right up against the stage without a barricade or staff security blocking the way.
The Opener: Wovenhand
The first thing to know about Wovenhand: They are a beautiful enigma. On the Wovenhand Wikipedia page, the band is described as an Alternative Country band with influences of Southern Gothic, Old-Time, Folk, Gospel, and Rock and Roll. We’ll be honest with you: That description is terrible inept. Wovenhand may have been an Alternative Country band at some point, but what we’ve listened to lately on album and what we saw at Spirit was incredibly far away.
Here’s something a little more accurate: Imagine the typical spaghetti western movie soundtrack mixed with David Bowie mixed with the droning backbone of Industrial Rock and a tinge of Native American tribal music. If it sounds wild and hard to imagine, that’s because it is. Wovenhand is unlike anything we’ve ever seen or heard before.
Wovenhand’s unique style is thanks to the band’s founding member, David Eugene Edwards. Born in Colorado in 1968, Edwards has been prolific in his musical output since 1995, putting out more than 20 albums and live DVDs with Wovenhand and another Alternative Country act called 16 Horsepower.
When we turned the corner in Spirit and saw Edwards on stage, we initially thought he was Neil Young. Decked out an eclectic collection of hat, bracelets, and western/country accessories, he looked just like Neil Young on stage. Edwards owned the stage like a spiritual shaman, often stepping back from the microphone and letting the guitar ring out so that he could mime shooting arrows and fighting the monsters within the song lyrics.
Wovenhand’s sound swirled, echoed, and droned in a cacophony of noise, spilling out in oftentimes sad and terrifying tones. Most intriguing, however, was the use of an electric four-string bouzouki for one song—a decision that was especially interesting since Wovenhand is a two-piece act. For a few minutes, the only sounds coming from stage were a droning backing track, the drummer, Edwards’s vocals, and his electric four-string bouzouki. It was one more surprise in a set of songs filled with surprises.
Musically, Wovenhand wasn’t one of our favorite bands to see live, but we were intrigued by the directions the band decided to go in. They have a sound and presentation we won’t forget anytime soon.
OM performed as a trio with Cisneros on bass, Emil Amos on drums, and Tyler Trotter managing the synthesizer.
The first thing we noticed was the vibrations. Picture this: The band is fronted by a bassist. Apart from the drums, the only other instrument is a synthesizer whose primary purpose is to help extend the overall drone.
The resulting bass streaming through the speakers rattled our pant legs and t-shirts, rattling everything in the building. It’s a truly powerful experience. When you close your eyes and sway with the Tibetan- and Byzantine chant-inspired music, you feel like you’re being lifted high, high into space.
OM identifies as Doom and is often described as such, but that’s not a fair description. Stoner Rock isn’t quite right either. Drone is also insufficient. OM is pushing the envelopes of what each genre can be, creating an atmospheric sound that is entirely its own.
In that way, Wovenhand and OM are good complements. Wovenhand creates an atmosphere that is dark, tense, and foreboding. OM can also be dark and foreboding, but there’s an underlying hope in their energy that puts a positive spin on the experience.
Casual Stoner Rock and Doom Metal fans likely wouldn’t enjoy seeing OM and Wovenhand in concert. However, both bands play extremely well and have polished their sounds over years and years of experience.