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Through the Debris: 19 Years with Pelican’s Australasia

The Chicago veterans’ debut album is set for a timely repress.

Whether Thrill Jockey avoided potential pressing plant queues by releasing the repress of Pelican’s Australasia one year ahead of its twentieth anniversary makes little difference. A two-finger salute to the current state of vinyl production or not, the fact that we have an excuse to talk about the Chicago post-metal titans is good enough for us.

While many in the post-rock pantheon would consider Pelican to be firmly entrenched in it, the truth is that they have little in common with any band inhabited in this broad-church.

With post-apocalyptic imagery that adorns not only the cover of Australasia, but many of the band’s future releases, Pelican are a concern born from dark vortexes of doom and drone. Seemingly conceived out of homage for amplifier worshipers Earth and Sunn O))), the four-piece, guitarists Trevor Shelley de Brauw and Laurent Schroeder-Lebec, and brothers, Larry and Bryan Herweg (drummer and bassist, respectively), take the idea of drone, bastardising it through meticulous harmonic rage.

With help of mainstay producer, Sandford Parker, on their debut full-length Australasia, Pelican mustered up the kind of tones and earth-scorching riffs that crumbled under the weight of despair. Parker’s ability to capture the band’s energy within a confined space makes Australasia what it is: something timeless with the kind of frightening energy that matches the band’s equally thrilling live performance.

RLYR: RLYR

Originally released on Aaron Turner’s Hydra Head label, Pelican emerged alongside post-metal pillars ISIS and Boris, catching the waves first made by the likes of Earth, Sunn O))) and Neurosis.  During this time, alternative metal had prospered like never before. That’s not to say Pelican rode in on the coattails, though. Far from it. Via their 2001 Untitled EP, containing fan favourites Mammoth and The Woods, it was clear that Pelican offered something different from their contemporaries, and Australasia further showcased that.  

Like a feral roar parting the mist, opening track, Nightandday, is like a full-throttle rhino-charge. Completely riding on the monolith, Nightendday is Australasia’s longest piece, as Pelican set out the stalls with a song that twists and turns, unveiling new grooves and nuance with each listen.

Pelican - Australasia

With mind-being time signatures, Drought sees Pelican transporting us to marginal worlds with the kind of think-on-your-feet cerebral acumen. Essentially, it’s a hazardous slab of amphetamine-fuelled bliss.

Something Angel Tears is not. Like a cinder block catapulted from the depths of hell, here Pelican are immersed in the B-flat tunings which have served them so well over the years. Deep in Earth homage, Pelican break the shackles by making diesel-powered guitar music sound hypnotic. It’s a feat few in this space have mastered, however Pelican cultivated new ways to mix soul-crushing tones with atmospheric lustre.

In one fell swoop, GW sees Pelican take post-rock in a chokehold. A short sharp burst akin to being torched by a flame thrower, it’s juxtaposed by what could be considered their most beautiful cut: Untitled.

An acoustic lament clutching at the ruins and provoking the kind of imagery of a world in decay, Pelican not only unleash their most surprising composition to date – years on and it still holds an aesthetic the band rarely revisit.

The Lord: Forest Nocturne

Which leads into the crunching title track. Up there as one of the finest moments Pelican have etched to tape, Australasia draws in the most aggressive forms of krautrock and applies the necessary B-flat treatment. A blurry explosion of speed delivered with sinister white-hot heat. 19 years on and it still stacks up as one of the finest moments both for the band and alternative metal as a whole.

While Australasia could be construed as a concept album, one thing that is striking – not only with Australasia, but through their whole discography – is how Pelican explored politics through sound.

Instrumental music can be interpreted in many ways, however the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s murky, dystopian soundscapes have always evoked imagery of a world gone wrong, and while perhaps the best exponents of this idea, as the years have passed, the political notions through Pelican’s sound are worth exploring. Again, it’s all open to interpretation but this facet of Pelican’s hellish walls of sound shouldn’t be discarded.

In world where a wave of narcissistic world leaders continue to obfuscate, posture, and garner power via any means possible, Pelican’s music feels vital for these times. Pelican aren’t afraid of the apocalypse. If anything, they are inspired by it, and prescient or not, with the latest re-release of Australasia, both sonically and thematically it couldn’t have come at a better time.  

Australasia is out on this Friday via Thrill Jockey. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

2 replies on “Through the Debris: 19 Years with Pelican’s Australasia”

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