It seems more and more by the day, Hydra Head is becoming my favorite record label. It seems everything that they release is not only good, but exceptional. Their bands are constantly striving to put out the best albums they can, and I've yet to see them fail. Sure, they mostly adhere to the experimental side of metal, drone, and grind, but who's complaining? Nobody that likes good music, that's for damn sure. Pelican are certainly the rule rather than the exception, but The Fire in Our Throat Will Beckon the Thaw is a whole new dawn for the band.
Dropping previous comparisons to Neurosis and Lungfish, the band has dropped something else as well. The aggression. The pummeling, bombastic riffing that fans of Pelican are used to have seen a reconstruction of sorts. Now more akin to post-rock than the experimental metal that garnered so many, warranted or not, Isis comparisons, Pelican put a brave foot forward; what's left to be determined is whether or not that foot has moved in the right direction. As with any evolution, they were bound to catch flack for the changes, but when a record like this truly soaks in, there's no argument as to whether or not the changes was for better or the worse.
Pelican's songwriting has taken on a much more linear approach than they had ever attempted, with each song building out rather than just piling riffs on top off riffs on top of rips. It's the space that the band has created that allows each musician to blossom into the force hinted at on previous albums. Each of Pelican's guitarists works so fluidly with the other to create these songs, that it's hard to imagine them ever going back to their previous style. "Last Day of Winter" is an extremely slow developing track, relying on a fair amount of methodical, repetitious drum fills and clean guitar to progress itself. Starting out immediately with some tight melodic grooves, the song seemingly ends before there's some harmonic guitar plucking that slowly but surely gets louder, until the veritable timebomb explodes and the wall of fuzz and distortion comes in, but underneath that layer of drone the quickly moving clean guitar pushes the rhythm right through that wall, all the while the drumming picks up, with each slap to the snare and each thumb on the bass drum just a tad louder than the last, with the chord progressions on that clean guitar becoming tighter and tighter until everything subsides, and slowly creeps back down to nothing. It's that kind of mastery that Pelican have finally been able to work to perfection.
And only Pelican would try to follow up such a masterpiece with an equally engaging, but even longer song. "Autumn Into Summer'' is that track, and while it follows in similar fashion, with a great amount of buildup and a crushing crescendo, it lacks the gravity that made "Last Day of Winter" so special, but it has its own unique charms. Transitioning hastily between rhythms and levels of distortion, it undoubtedly keeps you on your toes, but without any real risk there's not as big of a reward. The rewards do come, however, starting with the grace and beauty of the acoustic, untitled fourth track, which serves as only a prelude to the attention that the beauty and power of "Red Ran Amber" will command of you. Going through several stages, the track shines the spotlight directly on the precise, calculated songwriting that still manages to leave so much to the imagination. Straddling the thinnest of lines between metal and post-rock, the guitars aren't too aggressive and the drumming not too loud, but at the same time the almost-twinkle given off in some of the quieter parts will not let you rest on your laurels. No matter how delicate the sounds, you can feel the rumble build up in the pit of your stomach, and you just know what's around that bend, but it's the beauty of a journey that makes the payoff just that. By the time the song is in full swing, you can't help but sit back and be engulfed by the harsh beauty of what you're hearing.
This time of year, the record of the year argument inevitably comes up. What's troubling is, out of all the people I've talked to about this, I've heard not one mention of this album. My words really cannot do justice to the grandeur of this record; it's truly the best album of its kind to be released in as long as I can remember. While others may be selling this band short, rest assured, when my year-end list rolls around, these guys are making a hell of a case for number one.