June 7, 2019 Pelican – Nighttime Stories (Album Review)
Instrumental post-metallers Pelican break a six year silence with their new album, Nighttime Stories, due out on Friday, June 7th through longtime Southern Lord.
Announced back in the early spring, and teased with the single “Midnight And Mescaline” released digitally and hitting stores as a 7″ with exclusive B-side track “Darkness On The Stairs” as a Record Store Day exclusive the weekend of April 13th, for fans, it has been a long anxious wait. Their first album since 2013’s Forever Becoming, the title of Nighttime Stories is here, and the songs within are from a darker vein than some earlier work by Pelican. Some of this dark aggression could be due to personal (and personnel) turmoil experienced by the band over the past half-decade; most notably the sudden death of Tusk Singer Jodi Minnoch, the vocal-laden cousin to Pelican, back in 2014.
In addition to the tragic lose of Minnoch, Pelican Guitarist Dallas Thomas, the newest member of the band, experienced the death of his father. All weighing heavy on the music, so much so that the album’s opening track “WST” is named after, and dedicated to, Thomas’ dead. The first of eight new songs, the semi-acoustic opener “WST” quickly melts into the aforementioned “Midnight & Mescaline,” a gruff entry into a darker world. Crunchy and grumbly, the black clouds of the track part around the halfway mark into some familiar territory, skirting an almost Shoegaze vibe, peppered with chugging, percussive guitar that detracts a bit from any feeling of rhythm or melody. Longtime fans will be well-versed in the dense skill and musicianship on display here, but those same fans could wonder if the shift in tone for Nighttime Stories is the band responding to a request, if not a challenge, to sound harder and heavier than before. That said, the result is enjoyable, if not a departure from more traditional Pelican fare.
Furthermore, “Abyssal Plain” is another plumb into deeper depths, with down-tuned rhythm guitars drowning out solo efforts, creating a thick wall of noise that again scatters the melody. It is here that the band’s signature tones appear again here, in small pieces, flung into far-off corners, difficult, but worthwhile, to piece together. A similar structure lies beneath the dismal march of “Cold Hope,” and by as the songs wraps, significant traces of Sludge and Doom leaves tracks in their wake. This is all while the title cut moves at a glacial pace, glancing in many directions, most notably in the Ross Robinson era of Machine Head, with its guitars switching bars between grinding traipses and high wailing attempts at freedom. As with the rest of the album, the portions of clarity here are buried underneath a thick layer of Sludge and Gloom.
All these factors in mind, growth and experimentation are to be expected at this stage of a band’s career, and a song like “Arteries of Blacktop” is more in like with a change drastic enough to jolt returning listeners into new territory without clearing the landscape and starting from scratch. Similarly, “Full Moon, Black Water” sounds both familiar and challenging.
In most places, the shift to heavier aggression works, but existing fans will need to expend considerable effort to find traces of the band they have enjoyed up until this point. Pelican are a band that has never been afraid to shatter boundaries, and Nighttime Stories continues that trend, all with just enough of the old sound to keep fans satisfied and welcome. Cryptic Rock gives their exciting return 4 out of 5 stars.