“Therefore, he said, the only appropriate state of the mind is surprise” – Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time.
Allow me a personal note for a minute; I did not expect to like this album as much as I did. Long Distance Calling were always one of those bands that I almost liked but did not quite manage to fully embrace. Their sound seemed obvious to me and the last album, Nighthawk, did nothing much to assuage that. Their definition as post rock always seemed erroneous to me, my mind wanting to catalog them as simply another progressive, instrumental band. Sure, they had some good track on Avoid the Light, “The Nearing Grave” with Jonas Renske (Katatonia) was my favorite, but nothing was really awe inspiring. However, it would be a good idea to keep the above quote in mind before pressing play on their latest album. While it should be obvious by now that this band has been undergoing changes for some time, what with the addition of a vocalist to their last album, the extent of their transformation is perhaps not readily apparent from the cover of TRIPS. This album is an intriguing experiment in what happens when you take your core sound and throw it out the window, instead focusing on the dynamics and interactions that existed beneath it.
Replacing the somewhat straightforward approach to progressive, ambient metal, is a fierce recollection towards retrowave (yeah), Brit-rock (yeah, I know) and even pop (I swear). Just clicking on the first track should suffice as our beginning point. “Getaway” is just straight up, no frills, retrowave. It has the sweet, nostalgic synth line, it has the neck-breaking main beat powered by artificial kick drum, and it even has an effect laden “robot voice”. So, the listener is poised for the second track, thinking to himself: “I could live with an album of this”. However, next up is “Reconnect”. While it opens with thick synth lines that brilliantly anchor it into the previous track, it’s Placebo worship. You read that right. The vocal timbre, the repetitive role of the guitars, the drum line, are all straight from the late-90’s era of Brit-rock.
The weird thing is, it works really damn well. “Reconnect” is refreshing in its honesty, a simple and well executed romp through the powerful antic that made Brit-rock such a legendary genre, for better or worse. Accompanying it and completing the picture perhaps is “Rewind”, which completes the opening triplet. This track maintains the influences of the Isle, but this time channels the pop-rock influences of Manic Street Preachers for example, with sonorous chords along choruses and unsettling, dark verses. Petter Carlsen, the new vocalist, does a perfect job on both tracks, channeling both rebellious anger on the first and angst-filled loss on the second with equal aplomb. However, the best from him is still ahead. After a short sojourn in a classic Long Distance Calling track in the form of “Trauma”, we are treated to what is undoubtedly the best track on the album and one of the most powerful modern rock tracks of recent years.
“Lines” is a powerful tour de force of classic rock n’ roll elements. The initial buildup is dotted by wooden touches from the drumsticks, already setting the stage for the numerous, classic tools utilized on this track. This continues with faint vocals behind building up guitars before the chorus explodes into our ears. What’s this? More Placebo touches to be certain but one would be remiss without referencing Muse in their earlier days. Immediately after the chorus the comparison holds water as some of that colorful emotion is allowed into Carlsen’s voice on the verse, a classic Muse antic. The rest of the track is classically structured: middle, ambient build up transitions into a guitar solo which then collapses into the last iteration of the chorus, made all the more emotional for the journey.
And it works, for some reason. More clearly stated, TRIPS doesn’t have much for sheer innovation; a lot of it is simple, tried formulas. But hearing such formulas on the mouths and fingers of Long Distance Calling is refreshing. The execution is top notch and, owing much to Carlsen’s conviction and honesty, it manages to elevate these tried and true building blocks into something more. The album manages to stick to its guns, only being slowed down slightly by the closing track, clocking in at a pointless twelve minutes. Most of it, however, continues the fast, emotional method of its beginning and does so well, eschewing the earlier, long winded approach which was perhaps the main reason the band’s earlier works didn’t take off. Who would have guessed that what this sprawling, progressive, instrumental metal band needed was a feisty vocalist? Color me surprised.