Preaching restraint in music has become a kind of mantra for me; the more time goes by, the more I’m convinced that the true measure of an artist is what they leave out rather than what they leave in. I don’t mean to by mystical about this. This isn’t some weirder-than-thou, woo thinking type of finger waving about the sounds between the notes, man. This is just about artists understanding that going full ham all the time is not the right way to go that, sometimes, the contrast between under and overstatement is what gives music its flavor and that, sometimes, less is more. In doom metal, and other genres benefiting from the grandiose, this is an understand that’s incredibly hard to find; everything has to be louder, heavier, and more aggressive than everything else.
Ironically enough, the contrast between the droves of mediocre doom metal and the really good stuff makes those points of excellence shine that much brighter. That’s the case with Deadbird‘s comeback album, their first full release in ten years, III: The Forest Within the Tree. Returning to channel some of the same energies that make Pallbearer or Ancestors so appealing, namely grunge and progressive influences in their doom metal, Deadbird also show other doom bands the power of the self-contained and direct album, one which utilizes its ebb and flow well. There’s are a few stumbling points but, overall, this brevity of expression allows Deadbird to be highly effective in their delivery of caustic, meandering metal.
Things start off with a bang (if we skip over “Singularity”, the intro track) with the couplet of “Luciferous Heart” and “Heyday”. These are, overall, the most traditionally doom metal tracks on the album; they clock in at close to eight minutes and feature lumbering, massive main riffs. The shift between cleaner and more abrasive vocals will remind some of you YOB and others of you of Sahg but whichever benchmark you choose to measure them against, they hold up pretty well. The role the bass plays during the main riffs is also classic, painting a shadow-step of the main guitar riff and making it all that thicker as a result.
However, these two tracks, and especially “Heyday”, also contain more of the blues and progressive influences that paint The Forest Within the Tree with more melancholic colors. “Heyday”‘s middle passage really calls forward the Ancestors comparisons, somber guitar cutting through the noise to deliver a convincing instrumental section that then fades back into a more restrained version of the main riff and painfully heartfelt vocals. Nor does it relent; the more prominent lead guitar (backed by some really good bass lines and even some acoustic guitar tracks in the background) ushers us all the way to the end of the track.
The following track, “Alexandria”, makes good on these more somber promises, a rumbling, grunge-y affair which satisfies whatever desire we had for more exploration of the ideas present at the end of “Heyday”. However, from here, the main weak point of the album begins to unravel before us. The following two tracks are either too much of an interlude (like the first one, “11:34”) or simply reiterating on ideas already found on the album (like “Brought Low”). This leads to a slight decrease in energy and attention on the listener’s side, as the inherent disadvantages of doom metal creep in.
Luckily, two facts are working in Deadbird’s favor, facts which they play off to a tee: the first is “Bone & Ash”, probably the best track on the album, and incredibly positioned near the end of it. “Bone & Ash” is incredibly aggressive, featuring the most abrasive vocals on the record and marvelous drum work (especially near the end, where there’s an almost thrash/punk influenced groove section that’s irresistible). It’s also just short and long enough, giving you plenty to sick your teeth into without overstaying its welcome at all. Which brings us to the second card played well by Deadbird: after “Bone & Ash” (glossing over the outro track), the album ends.
Just like that, instead of dragging on for another half hour of riffs and sludge, The Forest Within the Tree ends on its most vitriolic and dynamic track and that’s the taste that gets left behind; of passion, great grooves and doom metal made incredibly well, utilizing a concise and clever album structure to get across the most emotion and passion. Deadbird understand that this doesn’t necessarily mean the longest runtime but rather the most efficiently used runtime. Barring a slightly weak lead up to the end, The Forest Within the Tree uses every second when it’s playing on great music, leaving behind much of the fluff and filler that so plagues its genre, leading to an album that runs far and fast. And heavy. Never forget heavy.
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The Forest Within the Tree releases on October 12th via the excellent 20 Buck Spin. Head on over to the Bandcamp page above to pre-order it!