Sumokem’s smoke-filled debut EP filled with ancient tragedy, witches and, of course, pot

SumokemIt’s story time, everyone, so gather around. It’s the one about an ancient emperor who is crushed after the loss if his mother, reserved to a life of debilitating ailments, and only has hope of being cured from a witch who lives in the mountains. There is love and tragedy, traveling beyond this realm for fuller enlightenment, and, of course, magical turtles.

What we have here is one of the most elaborate, somewhat ridiculous stories ever told about pot. I know. “Dopesmoker” is pretty out there as well. But really, what stories told my metal musicians aren’t a little bit whacky, and when marijuana is involved in the tale, you can bet things are going to go haywire. But if you read the synopsis of the story told through Sumokem’s EP “The Madness of Lu Shen Ti Vol. 1,” you actually have a really involved, rather interesting tale that, yeah, still is a weird adventure with pot as one of the main heroes. But it also has enough rich characters (including the tortured title role), twists and turns, and mythology to fill a volume of books. We get started on this debut EP, where the plot begins to unfurl. By the time you get through these five songs steeped in traditional doom and psychedelic rambling, not only will you want to learn more about our characters, you’ll want to keep following this promising band wherever it goes next.

PrintThis EP is a pretty sturdy document, and people into bands such as Black Sabbath, Sleep, Hawkwind, or Pallbearer are going to have a blast listening to this thing. Oh, speaking of Pallbearer, Sumokem hail from the same Little Rock, AR, haunts that produced that band, so there’s some bragging rights for that city’s inhabitants. Two dooms bands this good from the same place? Inconceivable! Even scarier is Sumokem—vocalist/rhythm guitarist Jacob Sawrie, guitarist Josh Ingram, bassist Alan Wells, drummer Drew Skarda—only have been a creative unit since 2013, and they’re already this far along artistically.

Our saga begins with “Linger,” a short, acoustic-driven introduction that feels like the book lid crackling open. That paves the way for “The Doctor,” where the doom hammer drops, melody begins burning on high, and Sawrie’s excellent singing erupts. His voice is perfectly suited for this style of epic doom, but he’s got a classic rock bend to his singing, which is likely where the mention of Foreigner in their bio originates. And it fits. The lead guitar work is just tremendous here, as well as on the rest of the record, building the drama and keeping the excitement high, and eventually the song gets chunkier and heavier. The band heads into muddier terrain later in the track, kicking up grime, and the finish clubs you hard. “The Death” is the height of tragedy, with rustic acoustics opening, only to be leveled by swaggering guitar riffs. The playing is churning and tough in spots, paying off the event that changes the emperor forever, with Sawrie wailing about “crying in anguish” and “a life cut short.” As the song reaches its closing sequence, the singing turns to monstrous growls, which adds a proper element of grief and anger, while a psychedelic haze brings the cut to a foggy finish.

“The Emperor” also starts quietly and calmly, as acoustics squeak and tremble. Trippy guitars bubble to the surface, feeling mind altering and numbing, with the singing a deeper register and the tempo taking its time. It’s heavy though, no doubt, and the lead guitars create some real fireworks that are passionate and exciting. The vocals begin to soar and reach for the skies, as the band thrashes harder than anywhere on this record, and soloing adds a sense of power and glory. Growling returns, the pace is mashing and volatile, and the whole thing blazes to a satisfying finish. Closer “Farewell” is an odd one. Acoustics ring out, layering melodies on top of each other and establishing a spacey frame of mind. You keep floating along with this thing, and when it fades out in just three minutes, you can’t help but feel there’s more message to absorb. And there is, as sounds re-emerge a minute later, with strange transmissions, detached growls that could have been lifted from Deathspell Omega’s playbook, and an ambiance that seems to be going for that next plane of awareness, a state we will be in until Sumokem return with the second half of this story.

I’m an absolute sucker for the style of doom Sumokem create, and the fact there is a pretty extensive tale woven into it makes it even more interesting. Their first EP is a damn good one, a collection anyone who has even a cursory interest in the bands mentioned in this piece should explore. “The Madness of Lu Shen Ti Vol. 1” is an introduction to a group in its very early stages who clearly are leaps and bounds ahead of where most bands are on their first recording. The sky isn’t the limit for Sumokem. The cosmos and multiple planes of existence are.

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