When discussing the Chicago-based four-piece called Pelican, you could focus on what's actually there: guitars that etch out simple rhythmic statements that gradually get louder and thicker, drums that sometimes lag slightly behind on purpose, quieter parts that are treated with a liquid-y effects pedal. But that would be like describing a Rothko painting as a canvas that's covered in monochromatic paint. The particulars aren't the point. It's the feeling of immersion, of being swallowed up by that experience of listening or looking, that lends Pelican's music, like Rothko's art, its power.
Pelican doesn't so much write music as let it unfold. The instrumental-guitar symphonies on the band's sophomore LP, The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw, imply process. Riffs congeal and accelerate, repeating hypnotically over ten-minute expanses, slowly and subtly changing shape with each iteration. Where "post-rock" bands such as Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor are content to ride a single crescendo and call it a day, Pelican can come across as a metallic jam band. The thrash riffs of "March to the Sea" perpetually evolve, colossal guitar figures interlocking with treble-end filigree then spinning apart, seriously contending with Mastodon for the baroque-metal crown.
It'd be wrong to call Fire in Our Throats a metal record, though. There are too many power-ballad moments (the exultant ending to "Sirius," for example), a whole lot of prettiness, and not enough sustained crunch. But if Pelican avoids the unrelenting heaviness of its menacing 2003 debut, Australasia, the softer stuff only expands the album's emotional scope and gives context for the heavy stuff. The band members have by no means abandoned the dark corners -- check out the deafening climax of "Last Day of Winter" -- they've just realized that triumph and terror aren't mutually exclusive and that head-banging goes down best when preceded by a healthy dose of head-nodding.
Fire in Our Throats communicates a lot for an album without vocals and reaches such dramatic emotional heights that we forgive the blue-balling acoustic interludes and similarities to labelmates Isis. Even the overblown, celestial song titles ("Aurora Borealis," "Sirius") make sense for music of such epic sweep. Repeated listens reveal a band that pays as much attention to composition as it does to ass-kicking. But ultimately, it's best to listen to the album as you would the very first time: let its raw power steamroll over you, then revel in the wake.
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