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2009-11-24

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Metalgaze gets confused with monotony on Pelican's latest disc

By Leah Burgin, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 9, 2009

Pelican just does its thing. And for the most part, the band does its thing well. Despite hesitancy to be labeled, Pelican is most commonly classified under an obscure genre title — post-metal.

Pelican


What We All Come To Need
Southern Lord Records

But Pelican’s music consists of extended, dense and distorted guitar riffs, ambient and ambling musical structures and a dearth of vocals — all key ingredients to a post-metal sound. While Pelican has ambient qualities, their core instrumentalists — two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer — create a heavy, undeniably metal-sounding tone. Depending on the listener, Pelican will either induce a trance of slow-core head banging or a sprint to the nearest medicine cabinet for headache relief.

Unfortunately, only one song into What We All Come to Need, everything the band has to offer is already put on the table. For the remaining 43 minutes, nothing new or interesting is introduced — it’s all slight variations on the same resounding theme.

Perhaps this repetitiveness is a fault of the genre and not Pelican in particular. Also known as “metalgaze” (a play on “shoegaze”), post-metal is supposed to induce a trance-like mental state that results in prolonged shoegazing. And what better way to hypnotize a crowd than to play the same thing over and over?

In fact, the first 30 seconds of “Ephemeral” and follower “Specks of Light” are so similar that this reviewer thought she had accidentally set iTunes on loop.

While unvarying metalgaze may be the goal for Pelican, non-fanatics may find What We All Come to Need doesn't give off the genre's expected air of introspective detachment. The multiple breakdowns and abundant guitar riffs, while potentially entertaining in the excitement of a live setting, lose their impact on the recording.

The album, however, does have a shining segment — “What We All Come to Need.” The track, while incorporating all the potentially overbearing elements of post-metal, keeps everything balanced. The combination of one heavily distorted guitar with a bouncier, lighter and more nimble second guitar, while used throughout the album, is especially refreshing on this track — the drums and bass keep the interweaving guitars grounded, but don’t overwhelm the sound. The musical progression is still repetitive and ambling, but the instrumentation is so delicately balanced that the track’s unchanging musicality is forgiven. With its almost inspirational sound, “What We All Come to Need” contrasts with the thick, instrumental sludge on the surrounding tracks.

What We All Come to Need includes a first for Pelican — vocals. On the album’s last track, “Final Breath,” a moaning, raspy voice produces some indeterminate lyrics, of which the only discernible phrase is “until the seas run dry.” The vocals work, adding a spacey, frightening quality to the musical monotony.

In fact, if similar vocals had been added to more tracks, not only would Pelican have more staunchly defied the labeling it clearly dislikes (vocals are a no-no for post-metal), but the album would also have been more engaging. The slow-core headbangers would have had something to mumble while swaying, and the headache-prone would have been content sans Advil.


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