Nearly twenty years removed from the initial wave of public interest in post-metal it becomes challenging to bear the weight of acceptance involved in acknowledging that the journalists of ’03-’05 were perhaps correct that a ‘timeless’ appeal had been achieved within Pelican‘s slow-motioning post-hardcore (and post-rock) influenced instrumental experimental metal. Much of their discography holds up, or at least avoids terminally dating itself with a vocalist, amidst production standards that are on point with todays middling budget fare. Sure, the Chicago area band become a bit of a touring fixture with the signature slow building catch-and-release experience of those first several albums but by 2009 it’d seem any band involved in a similar style had fallen ill of spirit as they’d the well of inspiration was brutally tapped. Though some outliers persist, such as Russian Circles, the big heavies of post-metal have tended to call it quits at the ten year mark and begin to reinvent themselves with new place in the industry or various new projects to fill the void of time held in capable hands. A great distance persists between the last three Pelican records of the last decade as they’d transition from terminally dedicated towards intermittently engaged post-music entity. ‘Nighttime Stories’ feels overdue and almost eager to re-emerge in 2019 acting as re-ignition for old bones to free their minds of the violent and anxietous intricacies of modern day existence.
Were you to ask me what I thought about Pelican in 2013 I’d have dumped all over the bumpy thug-heavy road ‘Forever Becoming’ had paved and suggested they’d lost their way and grown tired of their own gimmickry beyond their exit from Hydra Head Records. For my own taste the original sound prior to (their weakest album) ‘What We All Come to Need’ (2009) had peaked with ‘City of Echoes’ (2007). I’d bite my tongue today, though, as ‘Nighttime Stories’ finds a new and interesting way forward if only briefly creating a set of new dynamics for their well-aging sound. The ominous nigh cinematic groove of opener “WST” into the butt-shaking post-hardcore romp of “Midnight and Mescaline” is easily the best moment we’ve gotten from Pelican in the last decade. I can’t praise enough the rousing 90’s post-hardcore vibe of that second track, it sets a stunning tone and immediately breathes new interest into the general sogginess folks have come to expect from experimental post-music. “Abyssal Plain” keeps this jaunty Fugazi-cum-Neurosis seizure seizing and from that gorgeous high comes an equally low-hanging set of tracks that send the mood careening in the middle of the 50 minute album’s expanse.
“It Stared At Me” feels misplaced in the tracklist as it invokes the most classic sort of late 2000’s Pelican progression sandwiched in between two of the most chunking sludge numbers on the album. Typical as it may sound today I really felt a connection with the title track as it kicks into gear nearly distilling the essence of ‘Selfless’-era Godflesh into something slightly more modern. The album becomes afflicted by its own gravity from that point on, or at least continues that hulking stomp forward without wheeling back around full circle to those post-hardcore energetics that pulled me in initially. The duality of moods within the full listen feels intentionally separated into uneven halves, as if the darkness was in danger of winning. If the greater artistic goal and ‘point’ of creation was to appear separated, divided by ebullience and dread then it certainly comes across. I was undoubtedly more engaged by the faster and more intricate guitar work on the album whereas the chugging side of Pelican might be more exciting for fans who’d felt the band’d missed the ‘heavy’ mark on the last several records. Modern post-metal/atmosludge is generally light years ahead of the more aggressive spectrum explored within ‘Nighttime Stories’ so, it feels a bit like an unknowing throwback at times.
I’m not all in with this latest update to Pelican‘s sound but damn have they hit upon some really powerful stuff that was ‘for my taste’ more than half of the time. If you’re no fan of post-hardcore or can’t stand atmospheric sludge metal, I guess there is nothing on any Pelican record for you but if you’re really keyed into the history of both genres there is fulfilling enough exploration within ‘Nighttime Stories’ to warrant several spins of it. I spent a few extra weeks listening to this because I’d initially felt a bit alienated by it. The first set of four songs really are interwoven in an important way that doesn’t carry into the less meaningful order of succession afterwards but this boils down to my own shifting taste in post-metal as even younger bands of plagiarists harvest sand from long dried wells. If you’re less cynical, it may all ring harmonious throughout. Moderately high recommendation. For preview I’d have to recommend the pairing of “Midnight and Mescaline” with “Abyssal Plain” and then “Nighttime Stories” for the best of the sludge numbers.
Long you’ve lain in the yellow sun. 3.75/5.0
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