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Big Bear - Big Bear

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Artist: Big Bear

Album: Big Bear

Label: Monitor

Review date: Apr. 24, 2006

Big Bear is a five-piece band from Boston that owes a debt to the temporal nature of music within and across scene boundaries – what it means, and what it stands for to align oneself to these areas. In their case, it’s the specific overflow, the ever-changing, ever-expanding definitions of the term “metal.” To call the band metal (or as they say, “21st century friendship metal”) is by terms a stretch, though it is metallic in nature, and the elements employed would probably qualify as metal in other instances.

Formed out of the bands Polaris Mine and The National Blue, Big Bear seemed to start off as a side project, but early shows that yours truly caught shook those notions aside of them being a very serious thing to behold. If you ever wondered how Velocity Girl could have once existed as Powderburns, then it would have intrigued you as well: clean-cut kids who wouldn’t look out of place at an indie-pop show, beating down dirgey and primordial riffs to within an inch of their lives, fronted by a young woman who taped shin guards to her jeans and screamed like she was undergoing surgery au naturel. In the short bursts to which crowds were exposed, this was – and remains – a massive and inspiring thing to behold. But the shows made it difficult to tell how their music might turn out on a recording. Their self-titled debut album (out now on vinyl via Parts & Labor’s Cardboard imprint; and on CD courtesy of Monitor) answers those questions, but raises others. The band’s sound is instantly metallic and punishing, never content to sit still for too long as guitarists Joel Roston and John McWilliams apply snarling dual leads, taco crunch time, and stunted jazz/fusion scales in big, messy handfuls. Singer Jordyn Bonds hollers out indecipherable lyrics in such a way that you can hear the polyps forming on her vocal cords. These elements are as bracing as they are familiar to anyone who’s enjoyed metal or post-hardcore in any capacity.

That Big Bear have imposed so much of a type of sound on their own music leaves them holding the bag for innovation on their own behalf, and upon closer inspection, that bag is empty. For starters, it’s difficult to hide the fact that the group doesn’t do a lot to say anything new with what they have going on. Over a back-breaking 43 minutes, these 12 compositionally difficult songs – with no names, just numbers – all start to sound exactly the same; a formless mass of anonymous aggression with no determinate size or shape. Bassist David Altman and drummer Jonathan Sparks have inspired moments, but in metal – or even a band using metallic sounds to push a sonic agenda – a band needs far more out of a rhythm section than what they offer here. There’s also an overload of these somewhat Midwestern “emo” moments where the guitars ring out a major 7th in unison for a few measures that really takes all the steam out of things. With the choices they’ve made in other areas of their sound, they’re forcing metal’s hand, but not taking it as far as it needs to go. Despite a few bursts of Melvins bloodbath fury (check out songs 3 and 11), Big Bear comes off as contained and mannered.

I’m all for giving bands a chance to explore things and make them their own – it’s one way that new music is uncovered. I enjoy Big Bear as a band and I appreciate what they’re trying to do, but perhaps it was too soon for the group to make a full-length. Taken in the context of a live set or a few songs at a time, it works; unfortunately, the singular nature of their sound works against them for the duration. The album plays out like the first draft of something much more profound, and while it may be interesting to see how Big Bear matures, as of this album, the draft is in need of revision.

By Doug Mosurock

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