Post-Metal Outfit Pelican Returns with More Dark Moods and Inventive Instrumentals

Photo: Marfa Capodanno / Courtesy of the artist

On Nighttime Stories, instrumental quartet Pelican make the most out of working without a singer, proving that some narratives are best built without words.

Nighttime Stories

Southern Lord

7 June 2019

For nearly 20 years post-metal outfit Pelican has been brewing riffs, solos, and fuzzed-vibes almost entirely sans-vocals. Fusing elements of doom, stoner, black, and other beloved subsets of metal, the quartet exploits the freedom of not being bound by lyrical themes or narratives. With evocative cover art and an expressive, albeit crunching, musical aesthetic Pelican can shroud their sound in mystery. Nighttime Stories, their first proper release in six years, discloses the band's matured take on the nuances and possibilities of instrumental metal.

The gloom and reserve of opening track "WST" acts as a prelude to the chaos and energy to come. A moody guitar riff is double-tracked with distorted and acoustic guitars, conveying both rage and tenderness in the same musical sphere. Inspired in part by the passing of guitarist Dallas Thomas' father, it's steeped in introspection and dread. Lead single "Midnight and Mescaline" is an energized rocker, fuzzed-out, frenzied, and raw. Guitars are laced with a buzzsaw distortion typical of stoner rock fare, but with shifting time signatures and relentless energy, it offers no mellow respite in tempo or drive.

Working without a vocalist forces Pelican to think creatively about their song structures. Writing and recording without a singer/screamer exposes just how good–or bad–the guitar, bass, and drums really are. Anyone can hammer out a repetitive guitar riff and a 4/4 drum beat, but not everyone can make it as hypnotic as the material on Nighttime Stories. Take "Cold Hope", a gravel-laden affair akin to Crowbar, Eyehategod, and the rest of the New Orleans doom and sludge sound. Pelican hammer out the main guitar riff with tightness and conviction so intense you can almost feel the heat coming off the amps. Punctuated by moaning string bends and momentary countermelodies, its a track build on the creativity found when there's no singer to hide behind.

The most striking thing about Pelican is their ability to flow from one metal subset to another unencumbered by any lyrical hangups. Flirting with space rock, "It Stared at Me" is a mid-tempo tune that builds on clean guitars and glissandi melodies. It's a track that doesn't feel at all out of place next to the rage of "Midnight and Mescaline". Likewise, "Abyssal Plain" treads between alternative rock grooves with blast beats straight out of black metal without feeling forced or unnecessary. Working for nearly 20 years in an instrumental context helped build Pelican into a tight, intelligent band free of any genre-specific hangups.

For better or worse, the distortion and chugging power chords throughout Nighttime Stories are reliable. The title track is a growling and psychedelic take on doom metal motifs that doesn't exceed beyond tried and true heavy riffs and glaring harmonics. Pelican knows how to deliver the goods and the grooves, but for a band nearly two decades in their career one would hope to hear boundaries stretched a bit more. Every track is a banger, no question about it, but with their track record it's not unfounded to anticipate Pelican can afford to get more ambitious, maybe even a little weird with their sound.

Nonetheless, Nighttime Stories is a solid record from a unique band. Heavy metal is a genre born on riffs, and Pelican has those in spades. Purely instrumental records may be difficult to pull off, but Pelican has more than enough brains and brawn to show how well it can be done.





The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.


90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

‘The Avengers’ Offer a Lesson for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.