by Josh L.
To say I found Pelican's untitled, four-song debut promising would be a vast understatement. Here was a band that blended the hypnotic, metallic rhythm of a band like Isis, while constantly maintaining a level of heaviness on par with Earth or Electric Wizard, all without the use of vocals. The fact is Pelican was exciting, and although their EP can easily stand on its own, the thought of what this band was capable of had me in a lot of anticipation. Thankfully, "Australasia" delivers on everything the EP promised, and then some. With all my biases toward the band aside, I can honestly say this is a fantastic album. The band has obviously explored their sound thoroughly since those first four tracks were recorded. While there is still plenty of repetition, "Australasia" contains, relatively speaking, a good deal of variety. The songs don't stick with a riff for too long unless they can tweak into something that gets progressively more interesting. Where before their songs took on a slightly ominous, foreboding tone, most of the tracks on "Australasia" are, in their own weird ways, uplifting. There's a definite positive vibe coming from a few of these songs, especially the title track. Make no mistake, though, the band remains supremely heavy. I really can't stress how well these guys balance monolithic heaviness with complex, tasteful melody. "NightEndDay" acts as a sort of gateway to the entire album, even at a length spanning more than ten minutes. Something about the song is just majestic sounding, making it an anthemic lead-in to an epic album. Expectedly it segues perfectly into "Drought", the album's finest moment. Starting as a lumbering pace, it gradually picks up speed, led by a frequent, rapid guitar "chug" that was also prevalent on their previous release and really adds spark to the song. At about six minutes in, everything stops, and when it kicks back in, it moves goes fast, the fastest the band has probably ever played. The result A catchy, memorable finale with some absolutely awesome riffing. I really don't see how anyone couldn't rock out to this. What may come as a bit of a surprise to fans is the untitled fifth track. It's an acoustic, mellow song that, like the sound of it or not, immediately called to mind Mogwai. Ethereal and dreamlike, it's perhaps most notable because the accompaniment of a 'singing saw'; that is, quite literally, a saw played with a bow. The use of this bizarre instrument adds a palpably eerie, haunting tone to the song, and the effect is actually quite beautiful. Obviously Pelican isn't for everyone. The absence of vocals will turn some people off, which is a shame. These songs are generally very long, perhaps a bit overlong in a few cases, and they rely heavily on repetition. They'll take a riff and run with it (or walk with it, depending on the song) for as far as it can go. Sometimes they slightly overdo it, and things can get a tad dramatic, but these are miniscule complaints weighed against a mountain of praise. The layout, compliments of Hydra Head's Aaron Turner, is also great, the disc itself looking especially neat. The production is perfect; all songs are loud, clear, and massive. Bottom Line: Ambient metal, stoner rock, doom, drone, whatever. Regardless of how you classify them, Pelican have made an undeniable impact on heavy music. "Australasia" is a leviathan of an album, an emotional, epic, and imaginative example of heavy (there's that word again) instrumental metal done right. While Pelican might not appeal to the passive listener, to fans of Isis and the like, I assure you this album is a godsend.