Cerberus Shoal – S/T

Cerberus Shoal is one of the most unusual bands in my collection. In the Portland, Maine band’s 10-year career, the act has gone from a hardcore-influenced sound to a gorgeous, primarily instrumental post-rock sound to something significantly more experimental and world music influenced. The band started as a four-piece in 1994 – with the core of Caleb Mulkerin, Chriss Sutherland, Thomas Rogers, and Josh Ogden – and added and lost various members while expanding the instrumentation, then added another Portland band, Tarpigh, into the fold before eventually parting ways with that project. And Cerberus Shoal has been nothing if not prolific, with 10 full-length albums, four split series with other non-American bands, and assorted compilation appearances. Now, in honor of 10 years of toiling and development, the band re-releases its first full-length, which originally was limited to 1,000 copies on vinyl.

I discovered Cerberus Shoal at Homb, a gorgeous and enveloping album of tremendous post-rock beauty and power along the lines of Godspeed You Black Emperor. Few albums make me seek out a band’s back catalogue, but this one did, and I snapped up the improvised Elements of Structure/Permanence and …And Farewell to Hightide and interviewed the band for DOA (click here). So by working backwards, I expected this first release to be in the post-rock vein of Hightide and instead was surprised by an effort more influenced by the classic hardcore sounds of Ebullition and Old Glory Records and bands like Still Life, Heroin, and Mohinder.

For those not familiar with the older style of hardcore, it was much more moody, more melodic, with quieter moments and atonal singing/screaming. Cerberus Shoal shows a more experimental style, incorporating the aforementioned elements while also taking a more instrumental-focused approach. On the opening “Rain,” for example, piano is used behind the loud, driving guitars. The percussion on the 11-minute “Daddy as Seen from Bar Harbor” (the band showed its penchant for long, intricate songs early) is very detailed, almost mathy, and the combination of bass and melodic guitars is excellent. On “Change,” the guitars are highlights, fading in and out and swirling, almost like creatures, and there’s hints of strings here that perfectly fit this more experimental style. This song showcases the band’s stark vulnerability as well as its more intense emotion. The closing “Rain,” which features a lengthy and flowing hidden track, continues the more melodic nature of the opener.

The development of styles between this album and Hightide is surprising. Cerberus Shoal traded the screaming for a more somber, spoken approach on Hightide and pretty much ditched them altogether after that for several albums. But I have a soft spot for this style of music – often dubbed the real ’emo’ sound – and after not hearing it in many years, this album brings me back. It’s intense and moody, yet Cerberus Shoal lends the style a significantly more artistic and experimental flair.

In short, this is more than an album for completists. It’s a good release of a style that’s sorely missed, but Cerberus Shoal fans should definitely snap up the CD reissue to bookend the band’s confusing yet intriguing musical development.