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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sunday Sludge: Vultures At Arms Reach - "дикари"

Does post-metal really exist? The sea of labels for metal bands has become as vast as the landscape of metal itself. Styles marry and there you have it: a new label. A new genre. The labels are helpful, sure. But when a band BECOMES that label, that band's in trouble. On the other hand, shedding that tag is gonna require evolution without departure. So now you're really in a sticky spot, Ponch. A sophomore offering could be called the most important in an artist's catalog. It can't be the same nine songs we heard eighteen months ago, but it had better not be a total bust-up sellout.

Santa Cruz's Vultures At Arms Reach first caught our attention last summer with +)))((()))((()))((()))-, a heady, surprisingly forward-thinking three-track introduction to a band that hit the heavy from every angle. It was futile to seek a flaw within those 25 minutes, which now places the band under the added pressure of delivering another seamless effort with дикари, their second three-track release in just fifteen months. While adhering to dark atmospheres and post-metal sludge middle-fingers to conventions, the album also showcases a band evolving and sharpening the foundation they've already established.

дикари is less noise than its predecessor, and I can't write this sentence without making "noise" sound like a four-letter word (I love the noise). There's still an ominous grumble, a thought-provoking spook; but there's a confident aggression in these songs that you can't practice. The shoe-gaze has become a steel-toed boot-stare, and the melancholic death rattle of Tsar Bomba, the album's opening track, is juxtaposed with the grinding stop/start skull crush of Savages' choppy, stuttered closing.

That's not to trivialize what lies between those moments. Tsar Bomba buzzes with echo and swirling chants as Brian Rucker's drums circle with ravenous lure. The eerie, pinpoint sadness melts into a broader sound, picking up nicely where +)))((()))((()))((()))- left off and could likely have progressed. Still thick without being abrasive, VAAR have maintained that ability to snag inside your mind and set up camp for days, relishing the haunt. As a self-injuring cutter would argue, the pain of these cuts is what allows relief. Sounds strange, sure; but Travis Howe's guitar takes the blame here, slicing or buzzing or doing whatever the fuck he commands.

Thicker and murkier is The Lions Den, though Howe's guitars still can't stop their racing thoughts. Growing shrill and countering the dirge amazingly, a tin-drum pounding tags along to maintain an even parity. Gabe House's keys are neither too big nor small, filling a gap that listeners didn't even know existed. Listeners can enjoy a stroll through brilliant pacing under a structure that is EXACTLY why this band sounds as amazing as they do. The buzzing grind may mask the songwriting, but the need for traditional composure is still non-existent. If only every listener could exercise the patience and non-presumptuousness a band like VAAR requires...

Savages won't let VAAR be mistakenly labeled "inaccessible" or "pretentious," however. The low drag and slow plod seem to observe without interfering, and there's a detectable pattern carried out through Nate Kotila's sludge-bass patience. Howe sputters and coos on guitar, those blanketed atmospheres are drilled and sprayed with drum assaults, and the robot-clone vocal leads straight into grind. Luckily for all of us, there's no shaking the pensive, troubled ambiance. Is that their bread and butter? Well, that's difficult to say. With this many arrows in their quiver, you could argue the band pull equally from all emotions.

дикари stands on its own as an incredible step forward for a band that had already found not only their balls but also themselves. Their not stepping out of their realm, they're expanding it. And why would we expect anything else? Every track they've recorded has expanded, whether we're talking about expanding depths of sonic haze or simply one listener's own expanding interest. Vultures At Arms Reach are swimming upstream against a current that so often only wants a sea of automatons on either side of the stereo. They're earning their stripes by not only thinking, but by expecting the same from audiences. They're not gonna insult your intelligence by playing something you've already heard. But they're not gonna leave you holding your dick, either.

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