Is the label “post-metal” in use anymore? It seems like the pioneers of it themselves have attempted to steer away from that moniker by changing their sound into something different, probably for a good reason. Regardless of where they are going, I’m going to know these bands–Isis, Mouth of the Architect, Russian Circles, the almighty Jesu, and Pelican–as post-metal. All of these bands are good, yet I never really paid attention after listening to their second albums (except in the case of Jesu, because Justin K. Broadrick will always bend my mind). I didn’t pay attention because of the pitfalls the genre creates for itself, just like post-rock before it–it’s a seemingly one-off shtick that, because of how ahead of it’s time it was upon it’s release, now relies on dated ideas and lacks new ones, those important onces that drive music forward and into different places. It’s this type of problem that leaves post-whatever bands, no matter what they are trying to reinvent themselves as, constantly in the 4-7 out of ten range.
With that out on the table, let’s talk about the album. Right off the bat, looking at the front of the album, you get a hint of what is coming. The more of the album heard, the more it becomes apparent that the artwork is incredibly suited to the music contained. This is because the cover displays some sort of post-apocalyptic drowned out area, as if someone got the right idea and somehow figured out a way to set fire to the entire film “Waterworld”. The image makes sense upon hearing the excess distortion bliss (though heard in previous efforts, this guitar sound is exceptionally good) as well as the sound of the drums. The drums are given a lot of room in the mix, sounding murky, almost tribal, and it feels as though this is something that previous Pelican efforts were missing. The thing with that is, though it sounds in place here, there’s a trade-off. The drums that are here, which were previously missing, suddenly shows itself as what shaped most of the structure and sound of their previous recordings. All of the songs on the record, despite being instrumental (SPOILER ALERT: EXCEPT FOR ONE!), all have very conventional structures. They aren’t terribly engaging, no extreme dynamics, no particularly mind-blowing riffs or rock outs. They seem to be experimenting with the routes their peers have taken; notable guest musicians include Aaron Turner of Isis fame and Hydra Head ownership and Greg Anderson of Sunn O))), the latter whose presence is felt in some gargantuan guitar roars, particularly the first minute of the second track “the Creeper”. There’s a heavy Justin K. Broadrick influence in the last track “Final Breath“; the Jesu-esque coda to the album throws a curveball: THERE’S VOCALS. They get a little lost in the mix, however, and it all ends up feeling like Pelican put on a Broadrick suit and aped it out for 7 and a half minutes.
Over all the album is pretty decent and enjoyable in its context. When it feels mediocre, it’s because the ideas, which once made this band and many post-metal bands so ahead of their time, have been caught up to. The music world has already chewed up and digested post-metal, as it did post-rock before it. Though, when this sub-genre first emerged, it seemed poised for apotheosis as other post-(fill in the blank) bands have achieved before them, as, say, Mogwai did with Young Team; it has faded into the bore zone of our faster-and-faster-rapidly-evolving-world-of-music-criticism. Their songwriting is evolving, their sound is changing, but ultimately it becomes a great mid-tempo, mid-volume compromise, an appeasement for genre heads instead of critics. And that’s fine. They stand in the fire of a genre whose flames can only be fanned so many ways and whose fuel is slowly running out. And we all know it’s better to burn out than to fade away because those that do the latter release this kind of record.