Pelican’s 2007 album, City of Echoes, was maligned by some upon its release, perhaps because of its penchant for shorter songs and Fugazian guitar interplay after the majesty of 2005’s The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw, an album full of epic-length tracks and panoramic sludge/doom riffs. The problem with this train of thought, of course, is that while City wasn’t as good as Beckon, it certainly wasn’t a bad album. The record, if anything, completely sidestepped Pelican’s biggest flaw: their occasional tendency to, in a longer song, circle around an interesting point without actually making it. Of course, gone were cinematic broad strokes of some of their best work. If only there were a way where they could combine reasonable song length with the evocative riff work the band are known for.

Luckily, they have found a way, and their latest album, What We All Come to Need, is nothing but that. While you won’t hear anything as heavy as “Mammoth” off their debut EP or as expansive as Beckon’s “Autumn into Winter,” their new album finds them both imaginative and self-aware. But even though they have a seemingly newfound sense of editing, WWACTN still features all the same trademarks that have made them great from the beginning: sinewy, heavy guitars; Larry Herweg’s workmanlike drumming (still a divisive part of the band); and absolutely no vocals (well, except on the last track, where there are). Whether you gave up on Pelican after City of Echoes or not, their new album features what they do best: telling stories in such a way that, after a song or two, you forget are without words.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about What We All Come to Need is how much they manage to do in a fraction of the space in which they used to it. Though the longest song on the record doesn’t go over eight minutes, “An Inch Above Sand,” “Ephemeral,” and “Strung Up From the Sky” manage to construct independent universes in the slivers on time they inhabit. And while there’s nothing HEAVY heavy on the album (not that Pelican were ever necessarily an all-caps HEAVY band to begin with anyway), the band certainly employ some meaty riffs when not building tension or broadening mood. And, of course, while so many of us (this writer included) are hung up on the idea of every metal band having a vocalist– where even in genres likes death or black metal, they’re typically mediocre and usually just take up space– Pelican, when firing on all cylinders, provide lush, melodic riffs to let the songs speak for themselves as opposed to having them told to you.

Of course, the most controversial element of What We All Come to Need— aside from being released on Southern Lord rather than Hydra Head (!!!)– is closer “Final Breath,” which, from out of nowhere, features vocals. This is somewhat of a rude surprise, considering the wordless forty-five minutes that preceded it (or the five plus hours of recorded material before it). But the vocals, in the end, are indecipherable and easy to ignore (as is the style in post-metal/ambient sludge/whatever in the hell you choose to call Pelican), and just become another part of the soundscape, just as much as the chiming guitars, swampy bass, or stiff backbeat. And though, all in all, the vocals don’t detract from the beauty of “Final Breath,”they don’t really add to it, either. One hopes this isn’t a new direction the band is deciding to move in, in that Pelican are doing perfectly fine sans vocalist. What We All Come to Need is another in an already impressive line of albums from a band that can illustrate a world in your head without saying a word. What’s more impressive, though, is that they’ve found a more efficient but equally effective way to do it.

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(4 out of 5 horns)


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