One always has expectations when listening to a new album by an established band for the first time. Chicago’s Pelican have a reputation for expansive oceans of sound that quite literally are the sound track to some gargantuan military like operation. On first hearing “Forever Becoming” those distinctive swathes of sound are still pummelling the ears, but now they have an edge to them. Where once they may have been ethereal in their majesty, Pelican are now showing their teeth. The departure of founding guitarist Laurent Schroeder-Lebec, replaced by Dallas Thomas, may possibly have been the catalyst to spark this metamorphosis. It has been argued elsewhere that by 2009’s “What We All Come To Need”, the band had hit a creative brick wall, too comfortable with their niche sound and content to meander. Whatever one’s feelings about this, the arrangement here seem cohesive and feed off many of the elements of their previous releases. Whereas other bands that are known primarily for instrumental sheets of guitar are possibly becoming more melodic in their approach, Pelican have gone back in to the garage.
‘Terminal’ is a lugubrious opener, which draws on an industrial like template to gain its’ atmospherics. It is not until you hear the demented progressions on ‘Deny the Absolute’ that you realise what the band have achieved here. It has tight momentum, an ominous riff and could be argued to be one of the most ferocious pieces the band has ever committed to release. This is no longer music for melancholic contemplation, this is music to unpack the air guitar, close the doors and let go. The pace does not let up either on ‘The Tundra’ which barges forward over its’ five minute duration, before exploding into chaos. ‘Immutable Dusk’ does hark back to a more reflective Pelican, whilst ‘Threnody’ explores the changes in dynamic, which may have come to be associated with bands such as Mogwai.
The tracks on “Forever Becoming” may not have the space that one may have come to expect from them. No twelve-minute epics on here, but more concise and focused arrangements. Performing extended instrumental guitar, bass and drum pieces as a speciality can sometimes be regarded as problematic, as the listener can often find difficulty latching on to a riff to maintain their interest. On the evidence of “Forever Becoming” however, Pelican are having no such difficulties. A track such as ‘Vestiges’ would not seem out of place in the “Progressive Rock” racks or the “Metal” racks, whilst the closing ‘Perpetual Dawn’ has layers of intensity, pace and grandiosity that seem to be formed from ideas honed throughout the band’s musical history. Here we have abrupt changes in dynamic and tempo, which are guaranteed to leave the listener fumbling for the volume control to control the cacophony. There are cymbals splashing and distorted bass lines groaning under the weight of the pummelling guitar riffs, and for many of us, this is just the way we like our Pelican, with gravitas.