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Pelican – Forever Becoming

Over the course of their now 13-year career, people have written more about Pelican than most modern metal — something which never really jibed with the unassuming Chicagoans who remained, for the majority of their oeuvre, wordless. While sorta ironic, the deluge of discussion in itself wasn’t that out of place. Good bands naturally get mouths moving. No, the weird part was the transformative power of the sentiments expressed and the volleyed-back disagreements.

Pelican’s unexpected sales surge turned the outfit into a divisive talking point rather than a musical entity. On one side, subterranean scribes were confounded by the continued popularity of their post-metal thud. (“Of course the masses chose to bestow the breakout upon the one without growls,” they might say, re-stuffing their straw innards.) On the other, pop pundits held the newly expanded quartet up as a lighthouse-esque example of what “unrelatable” niche metal could be if it only stopped walling itself off with perceived juvenilia. These handful of opinions were responsible for a tug of war over The Record, and each chatterer attempted to pen the perfect narrative representing where metal’s evolution currently resided. None of the hypotheses accounted for the many fans who just wanted riffs, received them, and left satiated.

When examining the downed dominoes from that angle, it’s hard to say Pelican haven’t continually upheld their end of the bargain, especially considering their existence is the happy accident result of a Tusk LP taking too long. They’re not even supposed to be here, and yet they’ve flourished. Heck, they continue to flourish. Forever Becoming, full-length number five, bears this out. It’s a solid-as-ever Pelican dispatch delivering its exact intentions, nothing more or less. However, it’s fated to be another lightning rod.

Opener “Terminal” begins with heavy, swing-less hits, a deep feedback drone, and formless melodic arpeggios pushed to the background. It’s Pelican posed as The Wishmaster. “You wanted a return to form, eh?” they squeal. “Well here it is.” It’s a nice stretch of self-aware wit (lest we forget, it builds into a fitting intro, too). That said, once the dust is out of the grooves, you realize Forever Becoming really is a return of sorts to the sonics of Australasia, their document of the day when no other practitioner of the slow n’ low could possibly seem larger. Case in point, the Herweg rhythm section is regrown to gargantuan sizes; Larry with his shotgun blast Toadliquor snare and bassist Bryan buzzing like a downed power line. Up top, Trevor de Brauw and freshly promoted full-timer Dallas Thomas lob riffquakes at one another, setting up twangy overtone aftershocks to crash together in the middle of the mix. It brings a sorely needed element back into the equation. Pelican is as much about their tangibility as they are their hooks. For the first time in a few years, provided your stereo is up to snuff, you can feel their songs.

Of course, this would mean nada if Forever Becoming was a flop. Thankfully, it’s not, consistently taking flight on the back of anthemic riffs of quite a few varieties. No kidding. Here, at least, Pelican isn’t restrained to following the hypnotist watch of atmospheric sludge. Surprisingly, drilling down past the distortion turns up a diverse method of attack. They infuse their steady-as-she-goes crescendos with a rise and fall fitting in snatches of Shiner, old emo, stretched-out classic rock (BÖC?) reveries, and a sense of yellow- and orange-tinted melody which wouldn’t be out of place in Marshall Tucker Band jams. These timbral shades, while tiny, are in the service of big, big things. In that respect, Forever Becoming is like Philip Glass’s soundtrack to Koyaanisqatsi if it was shot by Ansel Adams. To be specific, the flash/thunder pairing of the relatively speedy, roadtrip-baiting “Deny the Absolute” with “The Tundra,” a gale force roar that would even put Matt Pike on his heels, is Pelican’s musical philosophy in ten minutes: Build a skyscraper, tear it down, and make the listener want to do it again. Provided you’re not compelled to search out a dissenting post to damn with a reply, you probably will do exactly that.

Forever Becoming is out now on Southern Lord.

— Ian Chainey

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