Release DetailsLABEL Escape Artist Records
RELEASED ON 3/7/2005
posted on 4/2005 By:
What we have on our hands here is some ultra-nifty, uber mathy, largely instrumental metallic rock with somewhat progressive leanings- an approach that is, in fact, very firmly entrenched in the Mastodon school of noodly weirdness. The similarities to said Atlanta leviathans (and, incidentally, one of my favorite bands on the planet) are really quite striking- intricate, tangential lead guitar runs, an angular, complete rhythm section, loads of cool fills, a mindwarpingly dense, technical approach to songwriting that walks the tightrope between unbridled chaos and disciplined control. What results is a sinewy, snarling beast of a record, a virtually immaculate fusion of instrumental finesse and songwriting panache that will simultaneously confound and exhilarate.
Opener “Everyone Knows They Lied To Us” is virtually identical to Remission-era Mastodon, all blazing winding Adrian Belew guitar leads, off-kilter rhythms and pseudo-death metal vocals. Just like that Mastodon record, each instrument appears to be embarking on its own individual tangent here, yet somehow the exploratory paths taken by each musician ultimately congregate, resulting in mercilessly precise and bafflingly cohesive songs that warrant multiple listens to comprehend and appreciate. Check out the pummeling texture that the bass adds to “Phil Collins”, a wonderfully claustrophobic track jam-packed with a smorgasbord of fills, discordant, molten Meatjack riffage and treacle-thick bass. In many senses, American Heritage are a throwback to the earliest Mastodon material, eschewing the more conventional, linear, hook-laden approach of Leviathan for a frenzied and relentlessly busy approach that refuses to waste a single split second, cramming mind-boggling drum and bass fills and dissonant twin leads into each available sonic pocket. As such, each song is a rich and cavernous achievement, the labyrinthine arrangements requiring several listens before they fully reveal themselves to you.
This isn’t to say, of course, that American Heritage don’t know how to write catchy numbers- there is a definite groove and infectiousness that permeates this entire recording, putting American Heritage in very good stead with contemporaries such as Collapsar and especially Keelhaul. Album centerpiece “Forget” exudes an ominous, gutwrenching, sludgy doominess, a 7 plus minute barrage of hypnotic riffing and entrancing rhythms that truly exhibits the band’s immense capacity for writing perplexingly engaging material. Elsewhere on “E”, American Heritage exude a High On Fire meets Rue ramshackle sludgepunk aesthetic, opting for a chunkier, more bludgeoning crossover approach than the winding, busy passages that dominate the rest of the record. Stunningly, American Heritage manage to strike that impeccable balance between technicality and catchiness much more often than not, never allowing their arrangements to veer into convoluted, confused chaos. Very cool indeed.
Of course, with a band as complicated and blatantly disdainful of modern musical conventions as American Heritage, the proceedings do tend to get a little wearisome after a while- without the more predictable and accessible hookery of Mastodon’s newest, an hour of such dense and sophisticated material would be a daunting listen for even the most seasoned Don Caballero and Mahavishnu Orchestra enthusiast. American Heritage are a band you must listen to actively- the genius of the work must be grasped with an eager attention, it will elude you if you employ it as passive background music. Yet, as infectious as some of the material is, it ultimately feels like a bit of a chore attempting to digest the entire record, as the band does not appear to have as developed an understanding of dynamics as their Georgian peers. Two or three songs drag on for a minute more than they should, though considering the age of some of these recordings (this release being a retrospective of previously unreleased work), this is probably a flaw that the band have since worked on.
That being said, this is a pretty brilliant release that serves as further affirmation that Escape Artist Records is a glowing beacon of creativity in a murky sea of modern mediocrity. Bizarrely, even though this record compiles recordings strewn across several sessions, the production and mix is uniformly excellent- the rhythm section sounds IMPECCABLE on each and every track, the drums sounding alive and natural, the bass portentous and mauling. Of further interest are the four unlisted bonus tracks which provide a bit of a novelty element to the recording, adopting a cacophonous punk/crossover approach championed by their cover of Black Flag’s rabid “No More”. Overall, I’m suitably dumbstruck by the instrumental and songwriting prowess displayed on this record, and hope that their future output will continue to forage forwards from this point. If you found the new Mastodon too linear, compacted and radio-oriented for your tastes, meet your new favourite band.
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