Life in a band isn’t always so swell – just ask the members of Pelican. Despite arguably becoming the standard bearers for instrumental metal after the disbanding of Isis, the quartet gave up the full-time music thing for day jobs in 2009 in the wake of their most recent album What We All Come To Need.
These guys had bills to pay and mouths to feed, and their record sales and regular touring – including two gigs on these shores within months of each other in 2008 – weren’t getting it done, apparently. That’s a crying shame, because that last album was a stormer, a proper distillation of a sound evolved from their earlier epic heavy post-rock explorations to the hook-laden almost-pop songs that marked 2007’s City of Echoes. It was never going to be a crossover hit, sure, but its failure to sustain the band’s momentum must have been a disappointment.
Fast forward to the present, and the four members of Pelican, each now ensconced in different parts of the US, have reconvened after more than two years to ‘get the band back together’ and release the four-song EP, Ataraxia/Taraxis, which hints that there’s still some fire left in their throats to beckon the thaw.
First things first, this is a record of two parts. The two middle songs – the meat in the sandwich, as it were – don’t stray far from the established Pelican blueprint: repeated riff patterns of varying speed and/or heaviness, gradually unfolding and unravelling before looping back to the start. ‘Late Biosas‘ is the more upbeat of the two, designed to get the body moving and the fists pumping, whereas ‘Parasite Colony‘ settles into a slower, darker groove punctuated with triumphant exclamations to the rock gods. Pelican is a metal band after all, despite the criticisms levelled at drummer Larry Herweg’s ‘indie rock’ loose playing style (there’s no trace of that here to these ears).
That being said, the EP’s bookend tracks ‘Ataraxia‘ (a term from Greek philosophy meaning to be free from anxiety) and ‘Taraxis‘ (meaning more or less the opposite) demonstrate the band’s more subdued side, recalling the quieter passages of Pelican’s first two albums, with some added twists. In the case of ‘Ataraxia’ it’s a subtle keyboard melody on a background of electronic echoes and electric guitar crackle, while ‘Taraxis’, true to its title, unsettles with a single-note acoustic riff bending out of tune.
Titling the EP after these songs must be a statement of intent. Pelican isn’t all about the heavy, they’re saying; there’s room for different sounds and influences (as the shifting sound of their now-defunct art-grind side project Tusk bore out). And now that their lives no longer depend on the band, they can afford to take more risks with their music. Hopefully this record is just a taster of exciting things to come, because these four tracks have left me hungry for more.
Ataraxia/Taraxis is out now on Southern Lord Recordings.