Pelican will go down in history as that band given the impossible task of following Carcass at Maryland Deathfest 2013. But I gotta say, they performed admirably that night…I stayed for almost half an hour! All joking aside, they really were captivating—especially considering the fact that they were an exclusively instrumental outfit that night, and, well…have always been, up until now. Generally speaking, instrumental bands don’t keep my attention long…if at all, but these guys managed to. So with the band bringing in vocals for the first time on their new EP, The Cliff, they caught my attention once again.
Obviously, a little background is necessary here. Since forming in 2000 out of Des Plaines, Illinois, Pelican have released four EPs and five full-lengths. They bring a nice blend of post-metal tempos and song structures coupled with a tonal feel of stoner and sludge metal. Again, being an instrumental outfit, it’s an interesting concept and one they’ve executed well over the years. I don’t think any of their prior releases portrays this style better than this EP’s parent album, 2013’s Forever Becoming—where the song, “The Cliff,” first appeared. On a quick side note: one of the things I appreciate about instrumentals is how they give the listener the freedom to apply their own interpretations to the music in place of chosen lyrics. Few bands emphasize that opportunity better than Pelican, so throwing in some lyrical content is a real deviation from their roots. As a result, I will also be focusing on how these vocals play a role in Pelican’s music.
With only four tracks (and three different takes on the “The Cliff” itself), Pelican get right to the point, bringing in these newly discovered vocals immediately. And I gotta say, it works well. The hollow, somber ambiance of Allen Epley’s voice meets the emotion and feel of Pelican’s music to an exceptionally precise degree. Instead of the song redesigning itself around his voice, it simply adds another layer, staying true to its purpose. Next, we get a remix of the same track from Godflesh mastermind Justin Broadrick, which eliminates these vocals altogether and instead takes us on a meandering, blissful ride with a mechanical subtlety to it, giving us a bit of a modern element. The vocals return on version no. 3, a remix by Palms, but this time around it’s a far more atmospheric, droning sound that evolves into the shape of another instrument, echoing in and out of the guitar cadence. It’s a slower pace than the music itself, but one that’s appreciated in the way it gives this song a unique personality. These three tracks alone show incredible diversity in both the musicianship and the implementation of the vocals. It really is impressive work.
Finally, we close with “The Wait”, which has a bit more, well, weight… eventually at least. Pelican once again remove the vocals, making it clear that this was not meant to be a release where any voice should become the center of attention. Rather, it drives home the point that they’re willing to experiment with it for the sake of advancing their sound. And that is commendable. “The Wait” rises and falls in one continuous motion from start to finish, bringing in some really nice guitar solo work and melodies throughout. It picks up abruptly about halfway through, before once again lowering us back to our starting position. At six minutes, it’s a fine way to end the EP—a melodic take on the genres that define Pelican, while simultaneously reminding us of the name of this EP and not taking away any of the focus that should remain with the preceding tracks.
It may be a brief listen, but there’s a lot to respect and enjoy about The Cliff. Pelican show us that they are both willing to incorporate vocals into songs, but also that they know exactly how to do it specifically for their music. They enhance their sound and build on the impressive instrumental work that is the foundation of their music, instead of taking away from it. In short: Pelican know what they’re doing. At this point, I’m simply looking forward to how the next full length will sound, given the discoveries made on The Cliff.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”