The Healer

From the start, Sumac has welcomed abundance. Singer and guitarist Aaron Turner, an omnivorous multi-disciplinary artist with some 20 musical projects to his name, feeds all of his storied past into his band with drummer Nick Yacyshyn and bassist Brian Cook. When the Pacific Northwest supergroup debuted in 2015 with The Deal, their songs were already knotty hybrids of sludge, hardcore, noise, death metal, and beyond. And each subsequent record has sounded increasingly unsatisfied with keeping pure the tenets of heavy rock’s subgenres. Whether building or deconstructing, Sumac’s open-ended metal continuously seeks to incorporate more and more and more.

For all their indulgences, Sumac are veteran musicians in absolute control, whose improvisations are as exact and technically proficient as their dense, circuitous songwriting. This has never been so bluntly apparent as it is on The Healer, the trio’s fifth full-length. Sumac doubles down on everything that made them one of the most fascinating metal bands in recent memory. Grimier chords, longer and weirder freeform jams, utterly confounding rhythms, seismic heaviness, and profound humanity at its core—all sharpened for maximum effect. Their four-song, 76-minute album is a live performance tour de force unique in its dexterity, creativity, and clarity of purpose.

But if jaw-dropping musicianship is a given by this point in Sumac’s career, what makes The Healer exceptional is its command of spatial presence and emotional weight. “World of Light” begins its unhinged half hour as an eldritch ooze of drone, low-end rumble, and Turner’s primal rasp. The cracked caterwaul he releases when crying out “Shiiine!” sounds more animalistic than any guttural growl could. About 11 minutes in, the music starts climbing out of the turbulent soup with slow, deliberate steps. It can feel like some kind of cosmic rebirth or spiritual awakening. Yacyshyn and Cook’s brutal rhythm section sometimes drops out completely, leaving Turner’s guitar and Faith Coloccia’s tape noise to cut haunting shapes from the void. Diving head-first into negative space, Sumac builds tension while revealing what hides beneath each onslaught.

Often what The Healer reveals is hidden in plain sight. The three main instruments are recorded as if under a microscope, more intensely rendering the physicality of their moment-to-moment vibrations. Bass strings rattle against the fretboard like a chained animal; droning feedback crackles like woodfire; the toggle of guitar switches snap like dried leaves; cymbals burst and glimmer like fractals. The hyper-reality of these peripheral sounds brings a raw psychedelia to the music, which is a rich through line across The Healer. “Yellow Dawn,” full of warbling organ notes and low-slung tom patter, begins with the band’s most explicitly psychedelic arrangement. It carries through the merciless pummeling and origami time signatures to reemerge as an untethered guitar solo that’s as much “Dopesmoker” as it is “Black Hole Sun.” Such recognizable and warmly loved sounds round out the album’s more intricate stretches in a way that galvanizes both.

In a year that has seen Knocked Loose going viral on Spotify and Deftones rank among the most popular bands listened to during sex, Sumac has released their least crossover-friendly record yet. The Healer stands in stark contrast to dopamine-drenched metal blasts the length of TikTok videos, like a meditative yet grotesque Jodorowsky film in all of its surreal excess. Epic album closer “The Stone’s Turn” is a mystifying journey, full of starts and stops, whirlwind blast beats, diffuse psych, and electrified riffs that just fucking go. If Love in Shadow searched ever more deeply for metal’s untapped possibilities and May You Be Held confidently wrestled with its roiling unknown, then The Healer swallows its universe whole and reforms it anew. It’s an album that uses the rejection of metal’s well-trodden forms not as an endpoint but as a catalyst for bringing something else into being.

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Sumac: The Healer