[22 March 2009]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
With Chicago band Pelican taking “instrumental metal” as far as they could (2005’s The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw) before quickly slipping into boring, tedious exercises (2007’s City of Echoes), it seemed that the idea was simply played out, or at least in desperate need of some fresh new ideas. Enter Boston outfit Irepress, who turned a lot of heads in 2007 with the daring and lively Samus Octology, a 2005 album that was re-released by the ever-hip metal label Translation Loss.
Not only did the band base their sound in the same post-metal niche as Pelican, Mouth of the Architect, Red Sparowes, and genre progenitors Isis, but that album bravely dipped into other musical styles at the same time, whether jazz fusion, 1970s progressive rock, or Mogwai-esque post-rock. The whole thing was exuberantly eclectic, but at the same time Irepress was clearly disciplined enough to know how many extended jams, time signature shifts, and codas the average listener could bear in one sitting. Consequently, for all its eccentricity, not once did Samus Octology wear out its welcome.
With expectations a little higher, Irepress’s second full-length, and first collection of new material in six years, continues the momentum set by the previous album and builds on it significantly, creating a listening experience that’s challenging, sometimes baffling, surprisingly joyful, and best of all, never dull for a second. If there’s one sticking point with Irepress (for the record, it’s pronounced “ear-press”), it’s that there’s little to no structure to the songs whatsoever. The musicianship is meticulous, each track anchored beautifully by drummer Sheel Davé, who provides the band with a solidity and fluidity that Pelican has never been able to incorporate, but so free-form are the arrangements that each new movement, each new change of pace, feels arbitrary. However, unlike technical metal darlings Protest the Hero, who cram as many notes into their more conventionally structured songs as they can, Sol Eye See I benefits hugely from the band’s more relaxed approach. Each track ebbs and flows comfortably, its unpredictability keeping listeners on their toes.
On the nine-track, 59-minute album, five of the songs form the core of the record, each ranging from seven to twelve minutes in length. “Diaspora” launches immediately into a monstrously heavy riff similar to California prog metal standouts Intronaut, but that’s all a red herring, as over the course of nearly eleven minutes we’re treated to an inexplicable post-hardcore gang vocal chorus, Mars Volta-like funk, dub, somber cello, plenty of expressive and reverb-heavy soloing courtesy guitarists Jonathan DiNapoli and Bret Silverberg, before another heavy riff is brought back to bring some sense of closure to an otherwise schizophrenically arranged track.
“Barrageo” is decidedly playful, with its cute synth hook, Davé‘s lively drum fills, and incoherent guest vocalist Fredua Boakye doing his best Damo Suzuki impersonation, while “Adeluge” is just plain lovely, spacious synth and tremolo picked guitars adding a sedate, contemplative respite from the proggy craziness. Best of the lot, though, is the daring “Cyette Phuir”, which plays the darkness/light formula perfectly, vibraphones accompanying heavy guitars, sumptuous R&B vocals courtesy Noni Kai immediately followed by a straight-up hardcore punk passage, the whole song building to a majestic, saxophone-led climax.
Of the shorter tracks, the one that immediately leaps out is the whimsical “Fletchie”, a crazed little excursion into electronic territory, Squarepusher-style beats propel Jarrett Ring’s simple synth melody as samples from The Goonies (the band members are notoriously obsessive fans of the film) weave in and out of the understated guitar soloing. Typical of so many progressive rock bands, that kind of playfulness brings much needed levity to a form of music that can often be far too lofty for its own good. It’s nice to know that while these guys are playing some of the loftiest metal-based compositions today, they’re willing to crack a smile while doing so.