posted on 6/2009 By:
It’s funny how much the first album you spend time with by a given band can color your impression of that band. Take Callisto, for example. When I signed up to tackle Providence, I wasn’t overly familiar with their work—I’d heard True Nature Unfolds and it struck me as a solid but not wildly exciting post-doom sound that closely resembled Cult of Luna. Upon spinning Providence, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Callisto has opted for a fresher, more melodic direction that was less reliant on big metallic crescendos than their past work.
Thus, I was surprised to discover that web feedback on Providence was full of complaints about that new direction. I suppose that if I had given True Nature Unfolds and its follow-up Noir tons of listens and fallen in love with the band’s earlier aesthetic, I might be disappointed too. As far as I’m concerned, though, Providence is a far more compelling listen than either of its predecessors. Though well within established post-metal boundaries, this disc has some major advantages over its many peers. First, it builds its songs around surprisingly catchy melodies instead of the usual huge instrumental climaxes. Second, Callisto has found a genuinely commanding vocal presence in new singer Jani Ala-Hukkala.
Ironically, it’s against Ala-Hukkala that most complaints regarding Providence seem to be directed…which I can’t even begin to understand. Tons of bands in this vein make do with mediocre roared vocals or semi-competent singing (coughcoughISIScough), and tons more simply go without vox whatsoever. If nothing else, Hukkala’s approach is a breath of fresh air. His clear, confident baritone (which bears a notable similarity to Jan Jämte of Cult of Luna side project Khoma) delivers despondent and instantly-memorable melodies that carry the day on tracks like “Where the Spirits Tread” and album standout “Rule the Blood.” As a result, Providence has a trait completely missing from most like-minded releases: immediacy.
The tunes on Providencetend towards the cinematic, and because they generally shy away from the more abrasive end of the metal spectrum, I suspect that they’ll often be described as “sparse.” Such descriptions couldn’t be less accurate. Even the quiet moments on this album teem with detail; subtle keyboards and warm delay build complex beds for Ala-Hukkala’s voice while the rhythm section thrums like a reliable old car. Nor does Callisto push themselves into loud, hammering moments at every turn. Sure, they get heavy (though not crushing), but in a wholly organic and often unpredictable way. Like later ISIS, Callisto has moved beyond rote quiet-loud dynamics. But where ISIS often feels so calculated and detached, Providence is a violently emotional record that feels more like the band forcibly expelled it from their minds than ‘wrote’ it.
And perhaps that’s why Callisto have overreached themselves here. Providence is an excellent album, but there’s simply too much of it—it’s 68 minutes long when it could get its point across in 50. But these guys aren’t the only band of this ilk who sorely need an editor and their successes more than make up for their flaws. It’s not often that I come across a post-metal release that’s both so instantly accessible and so worthy of repeated listens, and Providence is the best example of its breed that I’ve heard in years.
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