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Pelican - City of Echoes

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Artist: Pelican

Album: City of Echoes

Label: Hydra Head

Review date: Jun. 6, 2007

In Brian DePalma's bizarrely decadent film Scarface, there is a scene in the beginning of the third act that finds Tony Montana (Al Pacino, still picking pieces of scenery from between his teeth in the wake of the movie's first two hours) sits in his ill-gotten hottub. In the span of just a few minutes, he performs the final acts of alienation that drive away both his hot young wife ("hot" in that he has stolen her from his boss) and his best friend Manny. As Tony, finally and completely corrupt as he is lonely, converses with the tub-mounted television, and, as a wildlife reel shows flamingos take flight from a lagoon, he roots them on, shouting, "fly Pelican, fly!"

As Chicago's road warrior instrumentalists Pelican enter another act themselves, on their new album City Of Echoes, the question arises as to whether they are really Pelican or some other beautiful bird, wrongly identified by a sea of cynics that wish to hold them to their early promise of tectonic sludge and quietly Nordic sheen.

Pelican has always employed the techniques of the hardest metal, from the almost pedestrian double bass drum (pretty confident given that no one has surpassed Dave Lombardo's pioneering double bass motoring from Slayer's Reign In Blood) to the palm-muffled chugga chugga that started with Blackfoot but has ultimately defined metal's many subgenres that don't include churchburning. On City Of Echoes, the band plies dark-age minor keys in healthier doses, from time to time, and also adds a gurgling distorted bass guitar sound that has brought more to the forefront than on previous outings.

Metal chops aside, Pelican continues to look further outside its own genre (whether or not that genre was thrust upon them or they silently approve the musical pigeonholing) in terms of melody and rhythm. The sludge is there, perhaps in higher doses than usual, but there are extended journeys across the album that hark to Louisville and Athens more than Hollywood or Tampa. I've definitely always heard more Rodan than Death Angel.

Album opener "Bliss In Concrete" could just as easily be called "bliss from concrete," a bittersweet harmonic vamp forged from the aforementioned cockrock gimmicry that encourages and soothes through the verse but then pummels during the chorus and dismembers during the bridge: not exactly new territory for Pelican, but refreshing adjustments in focus and mix clarity abound. As the album moves into the title track (Samuel Fuller movie?), a few new tricks begin to surface, including a driving, double-time tempo that would challenge today's vitamin-deficient mosh pits to keep up.

Without lyrics to dissect, and with such heavy-handed instrumentation, there's never been a lot of room for Pelican to show much of a sense of humor. Presumably, a song title like "Spaceship Broken - Parts Needed" is as much of an outlet as Pelican can afford themselves, but the song itself, dense and complex with melody, really does find the group boldly cruising new waters. These are not pink flamingos. Fly, Pelican, indeed.

By Andy Freivogel

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