Pelican’s move to the Southern Lord label for their 2009 release What We All Come to Need was rather fitting. The label, home of (and really the product of) drone doom lords Sunn 0))) is well known for its crushing heaviness, which a post-metal band like Pelican is no stranger to. Predictably, What We All Come to Need showed a heavier side of Pelican. That album’s best track, “The Creeper” (which featured Sunn 0)))’s Greg Anderson on guitar), began with a thickly distorted guitar drone, which gave way to another patently crunchy guitar riff. Yet for all of its riff-heavy bluster, What We All Come to Need was surprisingly underwhelming. Pelican’s sound had become unusually streamlined. The music was intense, sure, but conventional melodic and song structures dominated What We All Come to Need. Pelican are no stranger to instrumental metal’s atypical song structures; the longer tracks on albums like The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw are proof of that.
Simply put, Pelican’s move to a heavier sonic involved the band taking on more straightforward songwriting, which in more ways than one undermined the songcraft present on albums prior to What We All Come to Need. Fortunately, however, with the four-song EP Ataraxia/Taraxis, there’s a strong indication that the foibles of the record before it aren’t likely to repeat themselves come the next LP. Though a scant 17 minutes, Ataraxia/Taraxis is a hopeful foreshadowing of what’s likely to come next from Pelican.
The EP can easily be divided into two halves. It begins and ends with acoustic-based tracks that sandwich the heavier tracks in between. The former of the two halves is where the EP really excels. They reveal a doomier side to Pelican, one that’s spooky more in atmosphere rather than the sludginess of the distortion. “Ataraxia” is the most atmospheric of the stuff here, building slowly in tension as a downtuned acoustic guitar winds its way through sparse arpeggios. Equally good is the closing track “Taraxis”. Though the beginning sounds like an acoustic version of a typical Pelican track, halfway through the song calms down into a section reminiscent of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Songs like “Untitled” and “Winds With Hands” from The Fire in Our Throats and City of Echoes,, respectively, were excellent demonstrations of a more organic sonic for Pelican. On Ataraxia/Taraxis that’s even more evident.
The middle tracks of the EP, while good, don’t quite rid of the weaker elements that made What We All Come to Need so underwhelming. The best of the two is “Lathe Biosas”, which features a Russian Circles-esque midsection that is bound to be absolutely killer in a live setting. The lead riff on “Parasite Colony” is boilerplate Pelican, and like some of their previous material its Isis echoes are a little more than obvious. Fortunately both of these cuts are better than a majority of the songs on What We All Come to Need, but only by inches rather than miles.
As a whole, Ataraxia/Taraxis is both an excellent EP and an optimistic glance into the music that Pelican is likely to put out on their next release. As a fan of Pelican and Southern Lord, I was disappointed in the band’s first release for the label, but it seems that Pelican aren’t looking to merely rehash What We All Come to Need. But beyond the comparisons to that album, this does what many EPs don’t do: it’s concise, never boring, and it demands multiple listens. Things are looking up for these post-metallers.