Friday, 27 March 2015

Ice Dragon - A Beacon on the Barrow (2015) / 80%

The Beacons are lit!

The Boston trio has been constantly busy since their debut in 2007, churning out albums on a regular basis (four in 2012 for instance) and that's never been really a problem since they have such a diverse sound that can change itself from album to album.

A Beacon on the Barrow, their first release in 2015, is certainly one of their heaviest in a while since their recent full length explorations were full on psychedelic rock (Born On A Heavy Morning or Loaf of Bread), folk & pop influences (Seeds From A Dying Garden) or even spooky ambient southern drone (Dead Friends and Angry Lovers). Even though both these albums shared a lot of different non metal sounds, the stoner/doom core was still present albeit subdued in them. Followers of the band knew they weren't leaving their metal roots in a ditch though and here they are with their darkest and heaviest album since at least greyblackfalconhawk (or even possibly ever if we exclude their worthy side project Tentacle) and I'm quite pleased with that. While guitar driven, the band is less inclined to unleash long guitar solos like on The Burl, The Earth, The Aether but while it's perhaps not as complex, it's still emotionally invested and well written.

Five songs for about half an hour of music is what you'll get here. Built like a sort of story with similar song titles (from “The Rider” to “The Return”), it's also one of their best production to date as the riffs are solid and totally freaking heavy. I don't think I've heard the band as angry as they are on Beacon, I guess the Boston Bruins aren't as good as some years ago and hockey is always a good reason to get frustrated! I was surprised by the level of darkness reached here since that's not quite what the band is used to, especially with what they released recently. The only calm moment on this album is the closer, it's a sort of countryesque/drone instrumental ballad but it's still pretty brooding.

The doom/stoner displayed here is ranging from fast paced and aggressive to mid paced and fuzzy. The opener is a blistering stoner track and then, the second track comes in and change the tempo towards a sort of slow and crushing doom metal number with deranged vocals. The music found here reminds me a bit of Red Fang with their groovy attitude but without the modern progressive rock layers. Nevertheless, Ice Dragon are known to include a lot of psychedelic elements and there's some here but in a restrained way, there's a huge wall of space rock sound behind the whole thing like in “The Journey” and it's a good companion to the meat and bones which are the stoner riffs. There's also some noise moments and they're well integrated without sounding out of place.

The album is a good compromise between the modern identity of the quartet (undeniable when compared to their stoner/doom peers) and the retro/psych/miscellaneous identity developed throughout their history. It's a short album but there's still a huge diversity and it's never forced. Like the artwork they picked for the album (Cotopaxi (1862) by Frederic Edwin Church), there's a somber atmosphere found in the dark clouds mixed with a sense of hopefulness emanating from the waterfalls and that's a good reflection of the musical content of Beacon.

The vocals were never the strong suit of the band even though they're fairly competent for the style. They're usually buried underneath a fair load of stuff but they're clean (albeit a bit gritty), high and uses a clear sense of catchy melodies. Ron has a good set of pipes too and he's not boring. Nonetheless, the vocals were/are rarely the focus in Ice Dragon's compositions. While their work isn't as memorable as I'd like to be (perhaps due to the mass production of albums), it's very enjoyable and most doom fans will find something to like here.
Reaching Melvins like degrees of variety, Ice Dragon is pretty much succeeding at all the styles
they dare to play and god knows the list is as long as my grocery bill. A Beacon on the Barrow is definitely a good place to start with the long discography but expect some widely different music if you pick at random.

The whole discography is free or “pay what you want/can” on Bandcamp and that's pretty awesome. Cheap excellent music is always appreciated.

No comments: