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Songs Of The Sullen Plains. - 80%

Perplexed_Sjel, November 3rd, 2008

Across Tundras are an oddity of the metal genre and to my knowledge, by far one of the most capable bands in the modern day era. This artists genre tag is itself as intriguing as the music found on their records, including this effort, ‘Western Sky Ride’. According to Metal Archives, Across Tundras should be considered all of the following; ‘progressive psychedelic doom’, stoner’ and even ‘rock’. To an extent, all of these tags are true, but there is so much more to Across Tundras than changeability and durability. It was the very fact that this bands music spans across several genres, as well as it’s expanding and interchanging style that forced me to listen to this band in the first place. ‘Western Sky Ride’ is, although vastly different from, a continuation of ‘Dark Songs Of The Prairie’, and as compelling, which I deemed was a metaphor for their brooding and dark material that intensely portrayed the music wandering across the prairies in search for sonic splendor. ‘Western Sky Ride’ offers varied emotional contents, a fine vocal performance and experimentation with lyrics with a lexis relating to colour, nature and to delight the already flooded sense:

“Nite owl in the branches so high, pale yellow eyes of dying light.
Looking down you can see the hellfires burning bright, I know I do.
Smoke travelin' like a long black train to the sky.
You sleep with one eye open all through the nite.”

There is an avant-gardé feel to the atmospherics which are admirably audacious, as well as soundscapes that encompass the true nature of Across Tundras. Songs like ‘Thunderclap Stomp’ with it’s unbelievably catchy lead guitars, which seems to be a new addition to the Across Tundras sound, and superior vocals which sound just as mellifluous as the melodious instrumentation, which often expands beyond the boundaries of experimental content by using acoustics, emotive atmospherics (shown explicitly well in songs like ‘Low The Daystar Hangs‘), as well as a demoralising dosage of crashing cymbals and snapping snares. Although, as with the first record, the bass isn’t as effectively enhanced as the other elements of instrumentation, including the vocals, it does play a pivotal role in backing up the emotive side to Across Tundras sound which, again, is perfectly shown in songs like ‘Low The Daystar Hangs’ with it’s emotionally crushing distorted lead guitars, evocative clean vocals and perfect soundscapes which toy with concepts of fantasy and reality. Another song which indicates the influence that bass could have had is ‘Follow Me To The San Luis’, with it’s brilliant dual vocal performance which reminds me of the gloriously depressed ‘The Old Sexton’ from the first record. Songs like this show Across Tundras in a new light, punishing the listener further more with marvellous emotive sections that set this record apart from any other of this nature, of which there isn’t many.

‘Western Sky Ride’ and songs like ‘Follow Me To The San Luis’ in particular, are dazzling depictions of Across Tundras brilliance in playing with the listeners emotions and how they can effortlessly shift between one branch of music to another. Vocally, this song is a splendid example of the American outfits ambitious, but yet triumphant style. Across Tundras are interesting more so than anything else, especially in terms of the unique vocals on display. Their music shifts from one emotional output to another, allowing the guitars to lead, then the percussion and even the vocals take charge of the mellifluous machine that drives forward through wind, rain and snow. The production is one again perfected by Across Tundras. It isn’t exactly clean, but does allow each segment of the instrumentation to be heard over the distortion that damages the emotional capacity of the listener, who is drained as the record progresses to it’s end. The production has dark qualities attached to it. Whilst ’Western Sky Ride’ isn’t badly produced, the record doesn’t enhance the uplifted soundscapes well enough because they do exist and sometimes struggle to force the deep seeded happiness and joy to seep through the seductively torturous soundscapes. Dissonant, disturbing and often depressive in it’s approach, this luscious effort doesn’t allow the listener to become tired of their approach. Thoroughly enjoyable.