The Vinyl Verdict: Sumac, What One Becomes


Chain Wallace here, the newest addition to the MetalSucks crew. I’m an avid vinyl collector, and I know many of my fellow metal aficionados are as well. As I’m sure you already know there are tons of album reviews out there but there are virtually no sources that focus on the quality, packaging, and artwork of new vinyl releases. Vinyl tends to be a pricey investment, but it’s one that I know a lot of people are passionate about. Though these albums may have already been reviewed on the site from a musical perspective this feature will focus entirely on the vinyl — the presentation, the packaging, the sound and the overall quality — rather than music itself.

For the first edition of The Vinyl Verdict, let’s take a look at the crushingly heavy new release form Sumac, What One Becomes.

Thrill Jockey has put out a durable 180g 2xLP release of What One Becomes in a variety of special edition formats including clear, translucent red, blue/white, and standard black. Fans of Sumac that picked up their initial release, The Deal, will find the packaging and presentation of What One Becomes to be quite similar. It’s important to note that this release doesn’t seem to contain any gatefold options; instead it’s delivered in a special “wide spine” jacket that houses both LPs.

The cover artwork itself doesn’t vary from the CD, cassette, or digital covers, but its large print allows owners to really explore the intricate details of Aaron Turner’s navy blue ink blot-inspired style. Removing the initial cover layer reveals the wide spine jacket featuring homogeneous packaging with a different version of the cover artwork; whereas the cover is reminiscent of moisture, offering an oceanic saturation of color for the viewer to swim in, the inner jacket features cracks and jagged edges that feel dry and worn in contrast, calling forth a desert feel that implies an intriguing dynamic even if the rest of the presentation is almost identical.

Since I purchased the clear limited edition printing I can only comment as to the production quality of that edition, but I found that they came out beautifully with the exception of one tiny issue: the A/B sides are perfectly clear, but the C/D sides have a slight white swirl. I don’t know if that was designed on purpose, but I found it a bit disappointing to not have a sense of uniformity between the two. Overall it’s a small issue to nitpick considering the impressive presentation of the package as a whole.

Digitally, What One Becomes is a monster, but when presented via the warmth of analog it evolves into a hulking behemoth. Once the needle touches down, the opening barrage of noise and distortion in “Image of Control” invites a new perspective on the overwhelming wall of sound. The bass is fuzzier, the guitars are sharper and the drums are deeper, cutting through the treble to create a pounding sense of self that is notably lacking on the digital version. The album’s power really shines as a tenacious examination of the boundaries of sound. The tracks are split evenly with distinct cuts between them, so each one starts off with a fresh experience. This was not the case when I listened to the album on Spotify, so in that regard alone the vinyl purchase is a more defined listening experience.

Thrill Jockey has released something special with What One Becomes. From a collector’s perspective this is the complete package: quality production on virgin vinyl with minimalist packaging that is just as arresting as the music itself. It’s the perfect addition to any metal fan’s vinyl library, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s arguably one of the best releases of the year so far.

What One Becomes is available now on Thrill Jockey’s site.

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