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Review: Pelican @ Ruby Lounge – April 11

By Nicholas Watmough

Manchester’s Ruby Lounge welcoming of post-metal behemoths Pelican yesterday was a stupid night to forget to wear ear plugs.

In fact, unwitting punters were being battered by a wall of sound long before the headliners took to the stage, as Manchester noiseniks Bleaklow opened the night.

Their honest, less-is-more approach to heads-down, swirling instrumental riffing held the audience mesmerised, as their guitarist layered subtle loops into a fuzzy haze. Incredibly loud and, well, bleak, Bleaklow seem to have distilled Manchester’s rainy, grey atmosphere into musical form.

Next up were Leeds’ very own Blacklisters, the only band to feature vocals on the night; vocals which lurched from guttural roars to drunken leers, as members wandered through the crowd menacingly.

Almost every track that the band played followed the same delicious formula; the four loutish gentlemen made disgusting, atonal noises for a bit, then there was a disgusting, face-smashing riff, and then they made some more disgusting noises before everything collapsed into feedback and amp hum – and every time, it worked to brilliant effect.

Sadly, their fantastically disgusting songs (featuring clever titles such as ‘Clubfoot by Kasabian’, which has nothing to do with Kasabian or their song Clubfoot in any way) were met with po-faced indifference by the evening’s largely ‘metal’ crowd.

Nevertheless, Blacklisters’ heartfelt, gritty take on noisy punk rock was truly refreshing, and took the dangerous volume levels even higher in preparation for the final act.

Pelican have been feeding their trademark atmospheric metal to anybody clever enough to listen for nearly 12 years, leading a scene of dense, instrumental noise-merchants and releasing four albums and numerous EPs along the way.

The Chicago-based quartet take inspiration from the more extreme side of music, fusing elements of doom, drone, post-rock, blended together with a more tasteful penchant for melody and composition.

Their albums feature slow, drawn out songs that focus on dynamic ripples and swells, thunderous distortion and subtle harmony.

Tonight’s show comes in support of the recent ‘Ataraxia/Taraxis’ mini-album, a collection of lengthy tracks which conjure images of space, and aliens, and loads of cool, psychedelic things like that.

Sadly, the band suffer from a very muddy mix this evening; despite a crystal clear balance for the previous acts, their heavy, textured mass of guitars and droning bass turns into a thick soup.

The band come on stage in suitable metal grandeur to an orchestral swell which fills the room; but when the band members themselves begin to play, their sound is decidedly quiet and boggy.

Which this is obviously not their fault, Pelican do themselves no favours either, by drawing out a lengthy set with material primarily from newer releases; releases which have been criticised by fans for their lack of inspiration and originality.

However, when the band present numbers from their seminal release, 2005’s ‘The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw’, the crowd responds gladly, with audience moving in time to the performer’s trance like swaying. When the song ‘Mammoth’ from the band’s very first EP begins to play, the room erupts with cheers.

All through their set, the band fight through the unfortunate mix (and perhaps unfortunate set-list) with candour and what appears to be genuinely honest emotion. The guitarists serenely drone along, eyes closed, every band member perfectly locked in with one another.

Tonight is an fine example of a band beginning to mature; 12 years playing tireless, difficult compositions have clearly taken a toll on the band, but moments of pure brilliance shine through, even on newer songs.

We can only hope that the fire in their throats doesn’t go out.

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