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Serious Beak – Ankaa

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I can still remember the first time I heard Serious Beak‘s debut Huxwhukw. It was around midnight and unable to sleep, I decided to check out some random downloads I hadn’t yet sorted through. Skimming through the list, I settled on the instrumental Australian quartet and over the course of the following 50 minutes, I experienced an album that I now know as well as any designated metal classic. It was clear that I was spending time with a band that labored intensely over their music to create a seamless and exhilarating listen. It thrashed, blasted, rocked, post-rocked, grooved and grinded, but adhered to none of those subgenres. It was nothing but great fucking music.

Since that experience, I’ve been waiting for new tunes and after four years have been rewarded with Ankaa, a conceptual EP that aims to sonically embody the life-cycle of a star over four movements, each cycle being paired with a different species of bird. The star-to-bird connection becomes that much clearer when you consider that Ankaa is a star existing in the constellation Phoenix.

Serious Beak have matured significantly in the time between albums without losing their core sound. Whereas the songs on Huxwhukw were more immediate, Ankaa demands more patience than its predecessor. Slower passages carry more thought and develop over longer periods, while the heavier moments sound even more focused. This evolution reflects a group more consciously writing as a whole, rather than a quartet pushing themselves to the limit individually. That’s not to say there’s no lack of dizzying odd-time riffs, forward-thinking harmonies, or headbanging riffage to be found on Ankaa, because there are plenty, but instead you hear a group improving upon their delicate balance of chaos, structure and restraint.

The EP kicks off with “Proto (Menura novaehollandiae),” a 3 1/2-minute burst that would seemingly embody the chaos of creation with its onslaught of discordant and swirling energy. From here, we enter the more vast, “Main Sequence (Dacelo novaeguineae),” whose first five minutes could legitimately soundtrack a thoughtful space flick, a sentiment reinforced by the superb minimalist drumming of Gene White. By its end, the track reaches familiar prog-metal territory before entering Ankaa‘s centerpiece, “Red (Laniocera hypopyrra),” an engaging ten-minute long ride that pummels the listener with a barrage of dynamic riffs that traverse the metal gamut.

“Red (Laniocera hypopyrra)” could be seen as Serious Beak’s mission statement, as it captures everything the band does best. It establishes a central theme in the form of a great riff and is then improved upon with subtle nuance throughout its duration, telling a musical story with aural breadcrumbs. It’s this quality that separates them from the pack of instrumental prog-metal bands. Each song has a center that no matter how far they stray, they always refer to in some form. While this alone doesn’t differentiate them, it just happens that the developed center manages to be so advanced. As the listener, you feel a part of the creation process as it presents ideas that are both wholly familiar and breaking new ground. By its end, I wondered if they could have continued forever with the songwriting process or if they poured every ounce of great ideas into one concentrated frame; my intuition tells me the answer lies somewhere in-between. With their energy spent, “Heat Death (Teratornithidae),” gently leads the listener from life into oblivion, much like the extinct bird family it references, with the sensation of resolution and finality.

It’s rare that I find myself incorporating new bands permanently into my musical canon but Serious Beak has me hooked. They manage to satisfy my musical sweet-tooth by releasing such dynamic and non-predictable albums, a rare feat in an age of foreseeable sounds.

—Aaron Maltz

“Red” Live at Hermanns Bar, Sydney

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