02. Deny The Absolute
03. The Tundra
04. Immutable Dusk
06. The Cliff
08. Perpetual Dawn
[Southern Lord Records]
“In a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks” – Warren Buffett.
It’s certainly a nifty quote that seems to sum up how instrumental post-rockers Pelican have handled the loss of guitarist Laurent Schroeder-Lebec. Rather than lament his undoubted songwriting talent, they have decided to sink their teeth into a whole new sphere of attack and, aided by the faultless integration of Dallas Thomas and his love for the big, brassy riff, they have dragged their sound out of the doldrums and into the kind of powerful groove-mongering that ignited fellow Chicagoans Russian Circles‘ career.
Forever Becoming, Pelican’s fifth full-length, is an album full of surprises. It seems that, somewhere along the line, expectations of it pre-release had fallen and, judging by the flurry of mediocre reviews that have been rushed out so far, it has been sorely underestimated post-release. There’s no doubting that perceptions of the band will have changed in line with their new artistic direction, but considering the album has to be listened to as a whole to be fully appreciated and will probably perform most admirably in the live arena, it seems a bit too early to be nailing it to a cross.
Oddly, their previous efforts have all featured strongly in their recorded formats, but have never shaken souls when performed. The reason for this may be that each one’s lighter touches and deeper level of atmospheric layering can so often get lost in the sound-desk, the roof cavities or the ether. Combine that loss with their music’s expansive drift and their “heads down” approach to performance art and you can imagine the fleeting impression they make on the less ardent fan. That will all change now that Forever Becoming has dropped – its almighty bottom-end and relentless groove will snap necks and burst chests.
The tour-de-force, ‘Deny The Absolute’, is nothing less than a conveyor belt of riffs. One after another after another, the guitar patterns cycle and build, each welding itself to the track’s backbone – a combo of surprisingly uncomplicated drum thunder and an equally compelling bassline that grinds and fizzes throughout. Together this all creates a series of wall-to-wall grooves that will swallow everything in its path. ‘The Tundra’ sucks up a little piece of High On Fire‘s sludge-packing inferno and breathes back a bitter rancour that ditches itself into a swaggering rut that rumbles forth down a doom-ridden path into gritty feedback. ‘Immutable Dusk‘ flexes more stoner muscle pitching bass-loaded menace and winding aggression into a series of warmer tones that rapidly completes their reformation into a confident position of power.
What’s most impressive about all this is that they haven’t just sandblasted their former attack to achieve this razor-sharp edge. They have blended the new with everything that has made their albums so eloquent in the past, beefed up on the parts that needed bolstering, tightened their focus and produced an album that flows from track to track with a silken elegance. Gone are the zig-zag of emotions and the song-by-song paucity. No, you can simply lose yourself in the basal journey of Forever Becoming and emerge out the other side believing it to be one single thread. As an example, the eight-minute two-tiered multi-coloured wanderlust of ‘Thredony‘ clashes heads with ‘The Cliff’ which in turn touches base with the motivational bliss of ‘Vestiges‘ in such a way that you would hardly notice the dip between the threesome.
When they do back off, we get the album bookends. Polar opposites, opener ‘Terminal‘ offers a soft foray into the darkness, backed by a hefty heartbeat of falling tom strikes whilst the stunningly rich, glorious tapestry of closer ‘Perpetual Dawn’ provides wave after wave of warmth and euphoria to bathe in. They form the preface and appendix to the book that you simply can’t put down. Once you turn that page, absolute absorption in the rhythmic drive and mind-expanding layering is not an option. It’s the aural equivalent of having all your pleasure receptors firing off at once. They haven’t showed anything like this kind of combined dexterity, determined pacing and gut-deep fury before.
Enforced change can be such a difficult process, so the initial human reaction is to fear the unknown, to err on the side of caution. Pelican, however, have laughed in the face of such dithering and have grasped their opportunity with gusto, swapping their elegant sailing boat for a stonking great powerboat and, boy, ain’t it a beaut. With turbos like the one on this bad boy, they really are ready for lift off. Keep your eyes peeled for those end of year lists – judging by its sleek lines and almighty wake, Forever Becoming should feature strongly.
Pelican – Forever Becoming gets…