Druids – Cycles of Mobeum (Sump Pump Records, 03 June 2016)
If These Trees Could Talk – The Bones of a Dying World (Metal Blade Records, 03 June 2016)
Okay people, today let’s take a look at another two bands. Both of these are American — one from the Hawkeye State, the other from the Buckeye State — and each of them will be releasing the third album of their respective careers tomorrow (Friday the 3rd). When I came across these two albums recently, it was my first time listening to either of these bands, but right away I found them both to be quite enjoyable (albeit in different ways). I’ve got a feeling you may agree. So let’s get started, shall we?
The eight tracks that make up Cycles of Mobeum kick off with “The Grand Sleeve of Time,” a short (two and a half minutes) mellow blues tune, reminiscent of Al Kooper‘s “I Love You More than You’ll Ever Know.” The dual guitar parts in this track eventually transform into a bit of a psychedelic freakout by the end, and from there Druids keep going in that direction and never look back.
These songs are mostly in the neighborhood of six or seven minutes long, giving plenty of time for lengthy instrumental exploration, as happens in “Firemares” (which starts out as heavy progressive-sludge but soon turns more psychedelic during the guitar solo and beyond), “Moon Systems” (which begins a bit faster, in a stoner-sludge-rock style, but then mellows out later), the all-instrumental “Oscillator” (which starts off fast but also quickly turns mellow, with a cool bass counterpoint behind the guitar solos), and “Halo” (which combines multiple layers of guitars and shimmery cymbals to give off a bit of a space-rock vibe, then heads in a more progressive direction, before ultimately settling into a sort of spacey-psychedelic-sludge).
During all of these variations and tangential trips, there are sporadic sections of vocals, generally in a shouted/bellowed/groaned manner befitting of the sludge genre. Even in a song like “Dreams of a Surface” which features light, almost playful guitar riffs (and later turns sort of dreamlike and ethereal, as it segues into the brief instrumental track “Trial by Stone”), the vocals remain very sludgy and very angry. Only in the closing track “Warpia,” which starts out with post-rock-sounding guitars, do we find any clean vocals — here they are also in a post-rock style, and after a while they’re joined by a choir of “aaaaahh” backing vocals. Following along with the album’s tradition of progression and dynamics, though, while guitars stay very shimmery for a while, the vocals soon turn ugly and growly. Soon after, the guitars kick in with heavy distortion, the drums also get heavier (and the cymbals get “crashier”). This all leads up to a finale that ends in a rather dark and foreboding tone.
All in all Cycles is a nice little trip through some sort of weird psychedelic-sludge galaxy, which totally makes sense when it’s revealed that the album was named for, and largely inspired by — from an aesthetic standpoint — the artist Mœbius, whose surrealist comic books and design concepts inspired a number of groundbreaking science fiction movies.
* * * * * * *
I thought it seemed a bit odd when Metal Blade Records announced that they would be partnering with famed chef and Food Network star Chris Santos to develop a new label. But as it turns out, maybe that idea isn’t quite as crazy as it sounds — because apparently it was Santos‘ discovery of Akronite instrumentalists If These Trees Could Talk and his subsequent introduction of the band to his friend Brian Slagel that prompted the Metal Blade exec to sign them for the release of their new album (along with re-releasing their previous works).
The nine tracks here — from the shimmery post-metal opening of “Solstice” through the grand conclusion of “One Sky Above Us” — straddle a number of different moods and vibes, sometimes going into heavier riffs, sometimes alternating with more dreamy sequences, as you might expect from an instrumental progressive-post-metal band, along the lines of someone like Pelican. Overall the main sensation one gets from much of this material, though, is one of distance and coldness — at least early on.
Some key highlights, for this reviewer, are how “Swallowing Teeth” opens with a wailing e-Bow guitar sound, similar to the beginning of “Take it Back,” before moving into various dark and mysterious minor-key guitar themes; “After the Smoke Clears” also is filled with dark and introspective guitars, coming across like an instrumental version of “Right in Two,” and “Iron Glacier” which sort of blends of all these different influences together.
Without lyrics to tell a story or express a point of view, some bands can falter, trying to maintain the listener’s interest and ensuring that each song sounds distinct and unique. But realizing this, some bands can take things too far, writing a series of songs that are so entirely unlike each other that they never manage to develop a cohesive identity. The most successful exclusively-instrumental bands, then, are those who can avoid both traps. On The Bones of a Dying World, the writing and arranging lends a diacritical thumbprint, while temporal and dynamic ranges are employed to differentiate and to engage throughout. For instance, compare the way the dreamy reverby guitar parts dance around each other in “The Here and Hereafter” with the way the bass and guitars are all intertwined and moving along at a quick trot in “The Giving Tree.”
* * * * * * *