Review: Pelican “What We All Come To Need”

Pelican

The music of Chicago’s Pelican is a bit of an acquired taste. While there’s something musically there for every metal fan, the songs are, if anything, so varied that they likely turn off those fundamentalist metal fans who judge all music solely on whether it is “brutal” or not.

Which is too bad, because Pelican makes consistently interesting, entertaining albums, with each new record a distinct evolution over the last.

The (mostly) all-instrumental band isn’t flashy or virtuosic ala Dragonforce. There are no “shredders” here: Rather, Pelican guitarists Trevor de Brauw and Laurent Schroeder-Lebec are restrained to the point of not bothering with “solos” at all. And instead of a riff-bridge-riff songwriting formula, the band creates ambient sonic structures that twist like smoke rings in the wind and last as long as 10 minutes at a time.

The band is heavy and often crosses over into metal territory, but refuses to be confined by the “rules” of metal composition. I don’t know if that makes Pelican “post-metal” (as they were once dubbed by the New York Times), or simply progressive in the best way. 

“What We All Come To Need,” the band’s new album, is by and large, darker than the previous “City Of Echoes.” There’s a stoner rock/doom aura throughout, although the songs here can hardly be categorized as straight “stoner rock” or “doom”. The heaviness, both in sound and feel is evident … but doing song by song comparisons to gauge the level of “heaviness” misses the point. “What We All Come To Need” is one work in several movements, where the overall feel of the whole is more important than the parts. That aura is hopeful in places but shrouded with a darkness that is surprising, considering previous Pelican efforts.

“Glimmer” begins the album with a downtuned riff and heavy, intricate rhythms from drummer Larry Herweg. At the midway point, however, the tempo suddenly slows and the distortion cuts out, to be replaced by a soothing, heavily reverbed melody over keyboard ambiance and intertwining bass lines from Bryan Herweg. The band manages such juxtaposition very well, and the shift in tone from frenetic to summer lake calm is handled effortlessly.

A track by track description is unnecessary … although particular album highlights include, “The Creeper,” a lumbering colossus with a Sunn O))) vibe and “Strung Up From The Sky.” “Specks of Light” is particularly beautiful – fast and relentless to start, with a driving bass line … until the beat collapses for a quiet guitar interlude before the march resumes.  

The title track, a ray of psychedelic sunshine, is another standout track. The closer, “Final Breath” deserves special mention, since it marks the first time Pelican has used vocals on a studio album. “Final Breath” is a hazy, doom-infused beauty, with a bridge that sounds remarkably like something Dave Grohl would’ve written for the Foo Fighters.

The musicianship is solid throughout. de Brauw and Schroeder-Lebec weave guitar lines together in such intricate patterns it takes several listens to consciously hear all the melodies. The rhythm section doesn’t get as much notice, but both drummer Larry Herweg and bassist Bryan Herweg shine at moments throughout. 

While the band doesn’t experiment much with its sound here, “What We All Come To Need” does reveal Pelican’s darker, more somber side. It may be too experimental and “unmetal” for some, but it’s an album that will reward listeners who look for more than blast beats and power chords. You can hear the entire album on the band’s MySpace page here.

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