originally written by Chris McDonald
After a fanbase-dividing album such as Pelican’s oft-maligned 2007 full-length City of Echoes, reassuring releases like the Ephemeral EP are a great thing. I wasn’t among those who questioned whether or not Pelican had lost their step completely following that album, but I did find it lacking in several ways, and was beginning to wonder if the band had started down the same slippery slope that I find Isis to be mired in nowadays, weakening their sound in an attempt to find some sort of crossover appeal. But even if this EP is merely a short teaser, it seems pretty obvious to me that the boys in Pelican still have it.
Ephemeral contains a pair of new tracks and a cover of Earth’s “Geometry of Murder,” featuring Dylan Carlson himself contributing guitar. The two new songs, “Embedding The Moss” and the title-track, both exhibit what we’ve come to love from Pelican: rich layers of crushing post-doom riffs and arresting segments of melodic rock guitar structured into epic, memorable songs. The outfit’s approach is still decidedly riff-driven, more so than anIsis or Mouth of the Architect (which, to be honest, I’m not certain Pelican should even be grouped with anymore), yet they maintain an airy, ethereal flow to their compositions that transcends the group’s instrumental tactics. This is what has always made this band stand out to me, and it was a trait that I found diminished in City of Echoes; the riffs were there, but there was less narrative feel tying them together.
The songs may follow a similar recipe on Ephemeral, but this time there’s real intent to back up the individual parts, and it makes for a much more engaging, consistent listen. Of particular interest is the strong, heavy riff work peppered throughout both tracks that recalls the band’s early, doom-influenced outings, more so even than The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw. I really enjoyed the heavier moments in these songs, particularly after the stale heaviness tacked on to City of Echoes, and its all due to how well all the varying elements of Pelican’s intricate sound mesh this time around. This increased sensitivity to dynamics and structure is further augmented by a notably more streamlined delivery from drummer Larry Herweg (who many felt bogged down past albums with his unusually loose style), and the result is two songs that summon the epic greatness of earlyPelican while maintaining the modest track lengths of the last album. The outstanding Earth cover is the icing on the cake.
City of Echoes definitely saw Pelican at a tricky crossroads in their career, but if Ephemeral is any indication, these guys have landed firmly on their feet. They’ve stuck with the more conventional rock approach of City but strengthened the songwriting and re-upped the heaviness quotient many worried was on its way out the door. As this EP is being issued in 12” vinyl format (although a CD version will be available at gigs), its exposure will likely remain limited, but if you happen to have a record player lying around and consider yourself a Pelican fan, Ephemeral is a necessary addition to your collection.