[5 February 2008]
Their third album City of Echoes may have received a lukewarm critical reception upon its release last year, but even their detractors will grant cerebral metallers Pelican this: they are nothing if not hard-working. Alongside that release and a relentless touring schedule, three-quarters of the Chicago quartet also found time enough in 2007 to craft this diverse, four song, 40-minute record of heavy, post-metal sludge. I say “four song”—the “album” is indeed carved up into a tetrad of phases—but in essence The Resisting Dreamer is a solitary, colossal composition, divided into segments. Each, though, is of a distinct flavor, allied as a means to the same end, very much part of the same linear musical narrative.
As one would expect of a line-up boasting three of its founder members, the Pelican stamp is firmly imprinted upon Tusk’s sound. Indeed, the introductory guitar chimes of opener “The Everlasting Taste of Disguise” could be straight off of either of that band’s first two long-players. They are born of the same glacial magnificence; combine similar concurrent elements of splendour and foreboding. These initial pangs of recognition are soon dispensed with, however, as merely the relative calm before the storm. For while Pelican is essentially the straightforward amalgamation of two musical spheres—post-rock and metal—Tusk incorporate myriad influences and elements to create an altogether more diverse sound. Take the labyrinthine “Cold Twisted Aisle”, for instance, flicking at whim from metallic post-rock to doomy thundering to heated math-rock. The glistening becomes the brutal. The reverb-heavy becomes the just downright heavy.
And then there are the two vocalists, Evan Patterson of Young Widows and Kayo Dot’s Toby Driver, twisting Tusk’s sound further away from the expected and banishing any remaining remnants of familiarity. “The Everlasting Taste of Disguise” sees them employed in distorted, deadpan mutterings and discontented groans, very much coloring the landscape rather than commanding it. “Cold Twisted Aisle” is another matter entirely. Here Patterson and Driver grab the steady progress of the track’s reverb-drenched, claustrophobic march by the neck, and twist off its head. From here on, the track is an entirely different beast, the previously commanding instruments now responsible to the vocal duo’s snarls until the whole thing implodes in swathes of distortion and the dying heartbeat of Larry Herweg’s drum-kit.
But as engaging as this is, it’s the shapes that emerge from the aftermath of “Cold Twisted Aisle”‘s ear-melting disintegration that mark The Resisting Dreamer sonic peaks. At just under six minutes, “Life’s Denial” is the shortest cut of the record, so it stands to reason that it wastes no time in beginning a spiraling ascension, driven by Laurent Schroeder-Lebec’s pulses of bass. As the four-stringed commandeer climbs higher and higher up the fretboard, he is surrounded all the while by wildly distorted guitars wreaking mayhem all around. Their ever-increasing intensity is perfectly attuned to soundtrack a simultaneous and gradual loss of control and an enveloping of mania, like a sort of post-rock rendition of Requiem for a Dream.
The results are nothing short of breathtaking. So much so that the inevitable capitulation, “Life’s Denial” surrendering to its own atmospheric weight, can’t help but come too soon. But of course, this is how it’s meant to be. Moments of exhilaration should leave you craving more, like those euphoric moments stashed amongst the opaque soundscapes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, when the Canadians let go of all restraint, disregard all composure, and just truly fly.
But if it is The Resisting Dreamer‘s shortest cut that excites most, then it is its longest that is least fulfilling. At over 16 minutes, “The Lewdness and Frenzy of Surrender” (a title that might be more apt for the track that precedes it) constitutes not far short of half its mother record’s playtime, something it fails to justify in creative terms. As both album-closer and sequential successor to “Life’s Denial”, it acts as something of a comedown, a long goodbye constructed of splurges of cacophonous feedback. It is, in all honesty, a fitting way to end The Resisting Dreamer—the full-stop approach would not be effective here—but even so, particularly given its length, you cannot help feeling slightly underwhelmed with the failure to inject any real vitality into the distorted, avant-garde ambience. That said, fans of Sunn 0))) might be inclined to disagree.
So what you make of The Resisting Dreamer could well depend of how you approach it. See it as Tusk’s sophomore long-player and you might be somewhat disappointed. There is, after all, barely an album’s worth of material, particularly by the standards set by lengthy instrumental pieces of the band’s core members’ other project. But then it’s not really been billed as an album, as such—merely a record—and so to judge it fairly is to consider its musical qualities alone. And in that respect, The Resisting Dreamer is a very satisfying listen indeed. It is a sprawling, diverse metal record that, like Pelican’s, shows a knack for both bone-rattling heaviness and sky-scraping guitars, and that also straddles a number of sub-genres to great effect . The band could perhaps have done with curbing their excesses a little in the latter cut, but the overindulgence does not mar what has come before: dense, claustrophobic but exciting musical exploration.