I had but one complaint about Sleepytime Gorilla Museum’s masterful second album, Of Natural History: It wasn’t serious enough. There was a palpable sense of self-parody, as if the band were apologizing for daring to rescue avant-rock, symphonic black metal and industrial music all at the same time. Of course, there was no need for the humility. Every disgusting time-signature change, every fucked-up funk riff, every operatic hell-howl unleashed by front-thing Nils Frykdahl was proof that ridiculously difficult music could sound organic, even awesome, if it was approached with the intent to connect rather than impress. On Of Natural History, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum found its sound but hid behind a sense of humor as bizarre as its music, still too frightened of being taken seriously.
Lock up your farm animals, because Sleepytime Gorilla Museum isn’t hiding anymore. In Glorious Times is a vicious beast of a record, oodles darker and freakier and more Teutonic than the previous two, with far less of the entomologically-obsessed silliness that lubed the transition between theater and camp on Of Natural History. It’s also the heavy-metal album the band has threatened to make for a while, and the shiny concrete shoes fit Sleepytime Gorilla Museum extremely well. Even the snootiest Meshuggah fan will approve of the gnarled riff spasms in the middle of “Salt Crown.” And if not, just ask him if the fellas in Meshuggah would sound quite so heavy if they replaced their fancy eight-string guitars and double-kick drum triggers with a violin, a junkyard percussion set and a custom-made horizontal bass instrument with mallets (affectionately termed the “piano log”). Because that’s what Sleepytime Gorilla Museum uses, so there.
You could trace Sleepytime Gorilla Museum’s angular melodic lines and plutonium-dense song structures on In Glorious Times back to Rock in Opposition bands like Art Bears and Thinking Plague, but the main influences on the album remain the band members themselves. Scattered amidst the metallic wreckage of In Glorious Times are the pagan folk that Frykdahl explores with his other gig Faun Fables, the turn-of-the-century oddness of violinist Carla Kihlstedt’s work in Tin Hat, and the perverted rhythmic backbone that drummer Matthias Bossi brought to his old band, Skeleton Key.
And where a fusion of such distinctive sounds might suggest watered-down compromise, everything on In Glorious Times feels necessary. There’s no doubt as to why we deserve the apocalyptic death-prog flogging of the first single “Helpless Corpses Enactment”; it’s an explosive release of the tightly coiled tension built up in the ten-minute opening dirge, “The Companions,” performed by a group of puppets enacting this horrible Wagnerian psychodrama with no control over the results. Maybe they’re even being forced to play it as punishment. Hell, by the end of its exhausting sixty-seven-minute run time, In Glorious Times feels a little like punishment to listen to. But you must savor that punishment, because nobody will ever savage your ears quite as completely as Sleepytime Gorilla Museum just did.
“Helpless Corpses Enactment” MP3: