Instrumental sludge metallers Pelican return with what may yet be their most surprising disc, What We All Come to Need. The changes are not immediately apparent if you’ve been following the band, as their heavy guitar attack and midtempo advance remain consistent from earlier releases. However, the album’s newer, smaller details eventually come to the fore.
The first thing you notice is the clarity of the recording — how, even though the band still loves the downtuned roar of their machinery, the mix is not as soupy as previous albums’. The next revelation is something you don’t hear — drummer Bryan Herweg stumbling on the beat. He’s long been a source of consternation, and occasionally fans have called for his ouster, but here, Herweg nails the beat straight between the eyes. Both these changes could be because of the influence of the band’s new label, Southern Lord. Under the Hydra Head banner, one could easily guess they were given a lot of leeway, but the new boss doesn’t work like that. Ordinarily, that might be construed as meddling, but in this case, the Pelican you always knew was in there comes out, exploding from the speakers.
The third change — more an experimentation, really — comes with the last song, “Final Breath,” which is not an instrumental. That it comes at the end makes it that much more a surprise, especially once you’ve settled into the CD. Is that a voice I hear? No matter how good this album is, the pace and musical grind does have a monolithic quality, and the band still needs to work more tempo shifts into its compositions. Need‘s opening track, “Glimmer,” shows they have it in them, but there are several points on the disc where, bar after bar, the minimalism becomes amplified to the point where you aren’t listening to the track as much as you’re simply aware of its repeating patterns. Vocals tend to break apart that drone — but then again, that drone is partly Pelican’s raison d’etre.
Regardless of my qualms, What We All Come to Need stands as the band’s most accessible, and in many ways most enjoyable, album to date. You just might need to pace yourself while listening to it.
What We All Come to Need is available from Amazon.com.
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