U.S. CHRISTMAS GLADLY LET YOU KNOW HOW THE WEATHER IS UP THEIR OWN ASSES
Let me just make myself clear in saying that I am not opposed to experimentation. Without experimentation, The Beatles would have never progressed beyond playing narrow teen pop songs, Led Zeppelin would have never dabbled in Eastern tonalities for the crushing result of “Kashmir” or and taken heavy psychedelic blues to the (arguably still untouched) higher plain of Presence, Husker Du would have never lifted hardcore out of its confining parameters, Death would have never brought jazz and prog rock to death metal, and Neurosis and Isis would have ceased to exist after a few mediocre hardcore albums. Almost any good band experiments, and it’s what brings us further not only in metal, but in music in general.
That being said, the sheer nature of experimentation calls for failed experiments, as how will one knows what it takes to succeed if not for witnessing others’ failures? It’s because of this that “experimental” rock and metal gain the bad connotation they do: endless wanking for the purpose of wanking, sounding interesting to no one but those playing on the album. Experimenting is vital, but yes, sometimes, without knowing it, bands that are looking to push the envelope are just jerking off on tape, failing to realize the sound of their aural masturbation falls flat on the ears of most. Though U.S. Christmas don’t completely embody that last statement, there is a sense of purposeless to their approach, leading one to ask, “Wait, what the fuck is going on?” five songs in, and not in a good way.
This is not to say that Eat the Low Dogs, the band’s latest full length, doesn’t have a lot of good going for it. From the opening one-two punch of “In the Light of All Time” and “The Scalphunters,” the band’s intent is clearly established: a drunk, raving lunatic-fronted Pink Floyd writing the score for a spaghetti western (with the latter song owing a heavy debt to “One of These Days,” joining in with Nachtmystium to anoint this summer the Summer of Meddle). On a song-by-song basis, it’s rather intriguing, as every instrument is submerged in warm reverb, with the guitars only distorted enough to pack a mean wallop and not obscure their soul. With everything bouncing off of everything, and a nasty, distressed yelp making its verbal point, the strongest songs on the record are deeply felt, and provide an interesting counterpoint to the narrow world of mainstream rock. Of course, most bands couldn’t keep up this pace for the whole record, and U.S. Christmas are by no means an exception. Eat the Low Dogs collapses under its own weight due to its lack of variation, and its once endearing trademarks (the aforementioned reverb and near constant retro-synthesizer mysticism) become incredibly annoying before the album is halfway through.
Too much of a good thing is still too much, and what these gentlemen could learn from their label owners (they’re signed to Neurot Recordings, owned by the members of Neurosis) is to mix things up when they’re on the verge of becoming stale. The band ride one trick from the first expansive note to the bloated last, and after the realization at the beginning of “Silent Tongue” that not much is going to change, the album becomes a heap of wasted potential. True, there are still some strong songs – check out the way “Say Sister” resurfaces with twice the balls it originally had after threatening to recede into a psychedelic mist – but surely not enough to hold the attention of many for almost an hour. Bless their hearts for trying, but U.S. Christmas spend most of Eat the Low Dogs circling around a point, never actually making it. But once again, at least they’re trying. And even though the vast majority of the record can never lift itself above the level of psych-metal mess, little glints of promise make the record an effort not completely made in vain. Just, you know, mostly in vain.
(2 out of 5 horns)