With no words to guide listeners, Pelican rely on their instruments to do the talking. Their 4-person line-up belies the sheer weight of their music, which is rarely anything other than gargantuan. Unlike their post-metal peers in Cult of Luna and Isis who are often as delicate as they are aggressive, Pelican’s dynamics are more restricted to ‘loud’ and ‘louder’ making for a brutal hour of riff after crushing riff.
Where openers Midnight and Mescaline and Deny the Absolute are immediate and punchy, the band’s success lies in prolonged exposure. Once the intricacies of their song structures and musicianship settle in, it’s the hypnotic nature of their wall of sound that leaves a lasting impact. Not the most obvious label for their brand of rock music, but a Pelican gig becomes quite beautiful. Eventually their crunching guitar tones change from white-knuckle thrills to a cathartic release, each crescendo – like the prolonged chugging of the epic Full Moon, Black Water – a symbolic purge of emotion. Their performance is freeing.
With a set drawing heavily from this year’s acclaimed Nighttime Stories – their first album in six years – there’s a feeling of cohesion to the set brought on by how realised each of its tracks are. While their formula is tried and tested, it’s on this record where it has come together in an emotional sense – death is its major theme – and it soars in the live setting. Even without lyrics providing a narrative, the tumbling swells of percussion sound like the anguish of grief, searching for some sort of explanation. Live, topped with the ferocity of the band’s members losing themselves in their own music, it’s a powerful force.
Their show is still relatively stripped back for a band who’ve been at this for almost 20 years. Post-metal is inherently cinematic with its lengthy songs and emphasis on moods. When they add more diverse lighting to their set, complementing their visceral songwriting’s impact on the senses, they’ll elevate their performance to something more transcendent.
Still, what it lacks in the way of a flashy production it makes up for by sounding raw. With all the emphasis on the music, the band unhidden behind the sheen of stage-show gimmicks, that three guitars and a drum kit make this much noise and pack this much of a punch takes more than just virtuosity. There’s little respite across the set, which says something about Pelican’s mood. Reenergised after six years between releases, this is a band firing on all cylinders.