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Pelican - The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw

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Artist: Pelican

Album: The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw

Label: Hydra Head

Review date: Oct. 17, 2005

Pelican have become one of my favorite heavy bands over the last several years. Those who have followed them since their 2002 EP have delighted in their sonic mainstay, the massive riff. But while the Chicago-based instrumental four-piece can still throw your spine out of whack with their furious crunch, what has come to distinguish them from their contemporaries is their steadily increasing eclecticism. On 2003’s Australasia, the band’s sound grew more expansive, organic and improvisatory (including, many noted with surprise at the time, the incorporation of both acoustic instruments and the occasional ray of sun through the clouds of distorted heaviness); still, few could have predicted where the band was going earlier this year when they snuck out March Into the Sea. On that EP, the band previewed a song from The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw alongside a typically dense Justin Broadrick remix of “Angel Tears.” But this preview version of “March Into the Sea” turned out to be a 20-plus minute epic, featuring extended improvising sections and boasting the use of acoustic guitars and flutes.

While I wasn’t exactly taken with the flutes, what really impressed me about that release was the band’s refinement of their use of dynamics and pacing (in addition to their willingness to play with form). They’ve put that to excellent use on The Fire in Our Throats..., as these songs unfold and move like the seasons (and it may be this aspect of their music which led the similarly expansive Opeth to tap them for the opening spot on their tour). This gives Pelican an opportunity to sharpen their instincts for musical tension: it’s evident right away on “Last Day of Winter,” which is by turns tentative and bursting, straining from its confines. This isn’t one of Pelican’s well-known contrapuntal epics but instead an exercise in the layering of guitar strata similar to that accomplished by their pals in Isis. When they’re in this mode, Pelican is unapologetic about indulging in pastoral or serene moments (which are rendered more confidently this time out). Hear them patiently explore the raindrop reverberations of “Autumn into Winter” (which, fear not, culminates in a huge, shuddering groove), the all-acoustic untitled track in the middle of the disc, or the laconic, country-tinged “Aurora Borealis.” Together this material constitutes one advantage this record has over Australasia, where – as pleasant and captivating as the soft-toned passages were – you still got the sense that they served as interludes between heavy stompers.

Still, as welcome as the musical growth is, it’s the power of Pelican that really sticks with you. This version of “March into the Sea” is a tightly-coiled menace (until its lovely, almost elegiac ending). And the long, punishing “Red Ran Amber” even dissolves into pure noise in the middle, almost like the ghost of My Bloody Valentine haunting a house built by Neurosis.

So in short, another fine release from a band that keeps getting better. Their efforts at vast range and textural experimentalism don’t always convince completely and, while I greatly admire the diversity, the result is one of slightly less overall impact than previous efforts. But it’s a damn fine thing that they’re not content to tread water.

By Jason Bivins

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