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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday Sludge: Maidens - "Eve of Absolution"

In an age of pressed flesh and force-fed singles, it's a comfort to find there are still bands and sub-genres dedicated to crafting entire expansive albums. Once you stop looking for that hook or a gimmicky harmony that'll sell your soul for shock 'n roll, you're left with bare-bones musicianship and songwriting. Sink or swim, eh? Turning a single idea into thirty minutes of relevant material is no small task, so you'd better have your chops honed and your focus clear.

The problem with blanket moods and atmospheres that thread through an entire LP is that I can enjoy the first half and then have to break back into reality for fifteen fucking seconds to flip the damn record. Small price to pay, sure. So Milwaukee's post-metal/sludge quartet Maidens are victims of their own prowess. The seven tracks on Eve of Absolution, their first full-length effort, may as well be presented as one. Luckily a pair of headphones and a streaming format via bandcamp are all any listener's gonna need to experience this tome from cover to cover, uninterrupted.

There's a tight grip on the back of our heads, sternly whispering in our ear that we need to face forward and remain silent. Promising doom, drone, post-metal, and the crunch of sludge could sound a tad ambitious for one single track; but on Beginnings: Rebirth, Maidens forge a whirr that soothes and saturates, while the abrasive dirge of sludge rhythms keeps things from getting too cozy. Teeming and flickering, this opener's atmospheric passages are contemplative and rueful, countering the intense, jarring vocal. Jettisoning into the choppy stutter of Our Splendor, Our Antiquity, Maidens showcase arachnid drum-chaos and burning guitar screeches, weaving together the two into a complex tapestry of post-metal emotional doubt. Instruments are mastered here, but the layers peeled back uncover some harsh family secrets. Oh, there's more to come.

You could expect the drone and doom to carry tracks to indulgent lengths, but Maidens only stretch things on the instrumental Discord: Storm on the Horizon. Fluttering with the static of approaching woe, a slow dawn can't break these dark clouds. The midpoint in the album is patient, pensive, and peppered with cosmic surprises. Terrain is littered with ash and slow-motion sickness crunching on bleached bones. Fanning upward into an opaque menace, the track brilliantly melds into the title track that follows. The mold is given time to set here; a delicious crunch meeting the focused and precise tandem of skin slaps and condensing riffs. Doom is prevalent in the form of shifted rhythms and archaic pendulum swings. Those dark realizations are setting in.

What's ominous and repetant is countered on Lands of the Blind, with a fuzzy cruise wrapped in stoner thickness that peeks into themes later realized on The Calm, The Silence. Cool winds ease us into splintering guitars that ooze ambition and confidence. Post-metal proficiency is on full-display in the track's progressive Pelican-influenced passages. The reflective acceptance on the closer is dulled yet wholly-permeating pain. Vocal pleas form a powerful denouement and an ultimate encapsulation of the existential trinity.

Don't worry too much about how to approach this one. Maidens fit into no single tag, but somehow they manage to smoothly change lanes between genres. What you experience only grows important when it has time to absorb. Eve of Absolution is one contemplation after another, at times littered with turmoil and at others laced with hope. The controlled chaos, the swirls of fret, and the icy breath heaved between sobs all funnel into an incredible journey, heartbreaking as it is.

For fans of: Pelican, Horn of the Rhino, Neurosis

Pair with: Rendezvous, Lakefront Brewery

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