13 November 2008

Teeth Of The Sea – Orphaned by the Ocean

(2009, Rocket)

At some point this decade, some clever soul coined the term ‘post metal. Goodness knows why; perhaps they were bitter at post rock almost completely petering out by 2002. (Can you name a band not from Japan who is any good at post rock?) Regardless, the term ‘post metal’ is now roaming the land, and it apparently refers to bands influenced by Neurosis.

Some would extend the meaning to ‘bands influenced by Neurosis and Isis’ (or, more insultingly, ‘NeurIsis’), but that is tautology considering Isis started out as little more than a Neurosis tribute band. They are now little more than a sleep aid, but that’s for another post.

What amuses me about post metal is the fact that none of it is actually what one would call metal. I don’t mean that in the snotty sense that an old rocker would say Korn or Tool wasn’t metal, but more in the sense that most of it lacks any discernable hall mark of metal.

Justin Broadrick was once in a metal band. Pelican is on a metal label. Isis was once a metal band. But none of those facts mean what those artist are now playing should be deemed metal. The Angelic Process was a great band. Nadja are pretty good. I would describe both as really heavy indie. Old school indie, like My Bloody Valentine or early Cocteau Twins/JAMC.

This is not a diss post. A lot of it is really good. The mentioned Angelic Process: released a fantastic album last year, and the story of the band (man) is genuinely upsetting. Neurosis have been known to enjoy their moments in the musical sun. Earth, Hyatari and Kayo Dot have released some of the most compelling albums of any stripe this decade. Grails and Across Tundras are both galloping across the prairie with their epic tales of not-doom.

Because it’s not doom, is it? The riffs lack that earthy solidity that has characterised slow metal since February 13 1970. Sabbath to Rainbow, to Venom, to St. Vitus, Trouble, Candlemass, Cathedral, Electric Wizard and Iron Monkey. The darkness is not there, and if there is a crushing power present, it is benign, almost accidental. Kyuss were heavy, but blissfully so. They weren’t metal or doom. Cheap journos called them ‘stoner’, but I always preferred ‘desert rock’, as the riffs rustled up by them and their kind (Masters of Reality, Karma To Burn, Fu Manchu) were far more effectively thought of as aural sandstorms. Riffs the size of dunes – and almost as free form, with periods of expanse, wherein the mind could wander for days at a time.

I mentioned Grails and Across Tundras, perfect examples of what would in another age have been desert rock. However, in this Southern Lord era where doom is cool and all must have the aegis of metal bestowed on it, we get… well it’s not quite metal… post-metal? Yeah, sure.

Following in the footsteps of these bands, and the revitalised Earth, comes Teeth Of The Sea. If they are not new, they certainly are to me. I have no research to back this up, but I assume they are nothing to do with Mouth Of The Architect. They plough a similar furrow, though, of the epic, post-Neurosis rock vistas.

‘Only Fools on Horse’ is almost an all-of-the-above option. Throbbing bass, the threat of looming thundercloud, but with a USP of brass instrumentation. It rather hints of Morricone, but without that touch of genius. It’s not bad, though, and certainly quite heartening a start.

‘Latin Inches’ builds momentum gradually. The percussion is engaging as guitars gently shimmer over it. Then comes the Bargeldian guitar clatter; that axe-as-rhythm that is so sorely missing from the Bad Seeds these days. It adds texture, and still promises bludgeoning to come. ‘Coraniaid’ is a brief dabble that continues the promise. It is still rather ominous, but you find yourself checking your watch.

Thankfully, ‘Swear Blind the Alsatian's Melting’ (they have to be English with a title like that) changes the mood. Its slow, clear arpeggio is reminiscent of the quieter moments of the incorrectly maligned last Tool album. The trumpet returns to add colour, and an actual rhythm enters the mix. Something danceable! It doesn’t last long, but provides optimism as the structure gleefully degenerated into slow guitar squeal, brass drone and bass threat.

The majority of the second half of the album is taken up by two songs – ‘Dreadnought’ and ‘Sentimental Journey’. These mini-epics (aren’t they all?) bring the mood, and the tempo, back down to a crawl. There’s more trumpet on this one. I’m sure they want the instrument to become for them what the sax has for Wolf Eyes – their chosen deadly weapon – but it instead makes Teeth Of The Sea sound rather too much like the Chumbawamba of the post-Oceanic scene.

The brief ‘Knees Like Knives’ initially brings to mind the Mars Volta’s ambient preamble of synthesised nature, but gets lost in the foliage, from which ‘Sentimental Journey’ emerges.

This final song on the album builds, and builds, and actually goes somewhere. Admittedly, the song implodes, instead of exploding, when it is due to kick in, but at least some noise turns up. It seems that – for the most part – one can define post metal as ‘metal without the catharsis’. If that is the case, Orphaned by the Ocean is a fine example. As an album of rock music, an artistic statement on which the band can hang its collective hat, it embodies the sub-genre at its most anodyne.

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