The journey to self-understanding is a difficult one, and accordingly much of humanity has devoted their time to studying and codifying it. Some of these teachers, admittedly, have dangled nirvana or its equivalent as a trap to lure in followers to short-lived cults, but other schools of thought persevere, in one way or another. Perhaps the highest honor, at least from my mildly nihilistic perspective, is to wind up as the impetus for a concept album. That's the case with Georges Gurdjieff's "The Fourth Way," a system of self-development that serves as the basis for Italian sludge-doom mystics Otus's new album Torch. The album takes listeners on a journey through darkness and the self to eventually emerge, elevated, fusing lumbering sludge riffs with intertwining layers of noise, ambient sound, and even powerful melody to facilitate the experience. Stream it here before it releases next Tuesday.

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Immense heaviness may sit at the center of the record, but Otus meld that with explorative textures that have more in common with progressive rock and ambient music than they do sludge or post-metal. On Torch, this musing introspection is what gives the album its stunning depth. The introduction and later midsection of "Ex Tenebris I" consist of echoing guitar leads, fluttering over constant guitar strums and pounding toms as a backdrop to far-off vocals. It's not heavy, really - it's inspiring. Of course, this leads to a swell where dramatic, organ-like synths war with monstrous guitars, so that inspiration comes with a leaden fist for additional encouragement.

Whereas many concept albums focus on literal interpretations or dive into minutiae of a setting, Torch distills its source inspiration into kindling to strike up a passionate bonfire of loud guitars and beguiling noises. At its core lies a sludgy attack, but Otus underlay their bite with thoughtful synths and even more thoughtful pacing. "The Fourth Way" is probably not the enlightenment mechanism for everyone, but Torch's poignant journey through the mind is a vehicle for some powerful self-discovery on its own.

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Torch releases September 20th via Time to Kill Records.

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