[19 March 2008]
Dead Meadow opened with the static crumbling of an earthquake. Radios exploding, speakers falling from their mantles, and our ears being assaulted. That was the sound of the album’s first track, “The Sleepy Silver Door”, introducing to the world Dead Meadow. Then came Howls From the Hills and Shivering King and Others, which were less connected to this earth, concerned more with the spaces in time, as the guitars got more spacey but the neuron strings in our bodies still grooved to this new dimension of the band. Feathers is the farthest jump for Dead Meadow. It was the look in the mirror that a man takes when he reaches the age when he fails to recognize himself at first glance. It was a record that seemed to be an entirely different band in comparison to the first records, but it could not exist without the inspirations of Dead Meadow and Shivering King.
Today, Dead Meadow is Old Growth. The album is the answer to the question of three years of waiting, since the release of Feathers in 2005. How will the next album, the next story begin? Old Growth opens up with the song, “Ain’t Got Nothing (To Go Wrong)”. This newest sequel welcomes the reader with the distorted echo of muted strings strummed to create the same ambient effect that breathes at the start of every Dead Meadow album to date. But quite unexpectedly, it bursts into a riff that’s too tangible, too easy to grasp. But after a couple of spins, it becomes a humble song. A lot of the mysticism so prevalent in earlier Dead Meadow seemed to be absent here and I was a bit disappointed by that.
The emphasis of the acoustic sound has definitely been its strongest on this album. I took it for granted until the fourth track, “Down Here”, began. It’s a short quiet song that reminded me of what this album is. Old Growth is a return to the trees, the wood, and the simplicity. Jason Simon’s vocals have never failed any of Dead Meadow’s songs, and that is saying a lot. “Down Here” is the first track on Old Growth to show the guitars and his voice working together to finally awaken the listener. This is when the album starts getting good.
At this point, the tension in Old Growth begins to rumble with the expectation of distorted winds, like clouds fathering an epic rain. It was the intro to “‘til Kingdom Come” that eased my worries about Dead Meadow’s new direction in this album. It’s verses like “No longer known, not for a bit / I woke with a start / I thank the lord your radiant form / That pierces the Dark” that howl to the spirit that hooked me on this band in the first place. It was so refreshing to hear words sung like that again, to hear them pierce the spaces of wonder and confusion that are entangled in every Dead Meadow album.
“I’m Gone” is the next song and I must have listened to it several times until one line just hit me: “But if you want me to / I could be with you now / Come the light of dawn / I’m moving on”. In the sadness of that line, I realized then that the song was the middle ground between the home grown rock of “Ain’t Got Nothing” and the mythical tempest of “til Kingdom Come”. The natural and earthy guitars, drums, and singing have always been as epic as the lyrics, but on Old Growth you have to pay equal attention to both dimensions because the music can be subtle to the truth spoken in the words of the song. Old Growth is an ancient tree that seems infallible. You really have to look closely to see the sadness and the time worn weariness in its branches and leaves. These are the first clues, the branches and leaves falling like reluctant tears, that Old Growth is more than just for groovin’ and that Dead Meadow is more than just a stoner rock band.
The proof is in every song, but one in particular: “Seven Seers”. I can imagine the band playing the song; Jason Simon and Steve Kille with their guitars, sitting on the floor bobbing back and forth, in complete removal from the world, completely absorbed in the music, while Stephen McCarthy on drums keeps the constant march going, working as a force that keeps the three members in a circle. They are prophets, they are the seers. The song’s strong eastern influence makes it so extraordinarily unique that I wouldn’t hesitate to say that it is the first track to really jump out at you. It is the strongest point in the album because it places the musicians in the seats of the great story tellers. This song is the music for an epic battle, when both fighters take their final breaths before the death blow is struck.
If you are looking for strong traces of old Dead Meadow, you’ll definitely find them in the song, “The Queen of All Returns”. The bass line at the beginning is so crucial to the feel of the song and so crucial for my desire to drive 120 mph down an abandoned high way. I imagine that is the best way to listen to this song: with the blood screaming from your brain and your heart finding God in its adrenaline-fueled pulses.
There is very little evil in this album, nothing creeping, no hexed winds whispering like in “Beyond Fields We Know” from Dead Meadow. There is more reflection, moments to breathe and just lay back to look at the stars. Listen to it with your girlfriend during sunset. Then you’ll understand the gratefulness to be alive as well as the anger and the sadness in existing the way we do. Old Growth is full of fast paced songs and songs where you can hear every individual string being played extra slow. A lot of people may be upset by the departure from the extraordinary songs that were made in Dead Meadow and Shivering King and Others. I know I was at first. But this is an album about patience, the kind of patience that takes a forest to form. It is the same patience in trees and in fighters, the patience of the still and the furious.
What is Dead Meadow today. It isn’t a question. At least, it shouldn’t be because there has always been one certainty before you first listen to a Dead Meadow record. It won’t sound like anything they’ve done before. As far as endings go, Old Growth ends with a two minute drone, a dissonant haze of sounds and neurons firing. It is the sound of a book closing and now we wait for the next one to be written.