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Nighttime Stories Tom Coles , July 4th, 2019 09:34

Pelican's Big Riff Energy remains in tact, now with an added goth twist, finds Tom Coles

Forgive me if I've taken some issues with Pelican over the years, whilst still finding their Big Riff Energy thoroughly enjoyable. Beloved stalwarts of the experimental metal scene, they've only ever really tinkered with their sound, and whilst this has never been unsuccessful per se, they always lacked the cut and thrust of their peers in Russian Circles, Isis or Neurosis. Their drawn-out riffs, chunky textures and twinkly sections are expertly balanced but they've rarely made brave, arresting, vital music, trading on pretty much the same ideas for the last decade or so.

There's nothing wrong with this. Pelican helped pioneer their style and have tightened their distinct voice. Even if they don't lean towards weirder, wilder stuff, they have the sense to write fun, memorable riffs, energetic and high-energy even when they lean towards the frostier, as they clearly did on the reserved Forever Becoming .

So: on their first LP in six years, Pelican have settled on a goth phase.

On Nighttime Stories, Pelican have embraced an especially unsubtle darkness, expressed through some trad goth tropes; creepy chords, tremolo picking straight from the black metals, gloomy textures and some post-punk textures. With some lush modern production this feels throaty, immediate and vital in a way their early stuff doesn't, and is surprisingly busy for a band who were always happy to rest on their long, lush riffs.

What's especially cool is that they run a gauntlet of cool goth sounds and techniques; they lurk, they strike, the guitars crunch and wallow, the tracks are alternatively mercilessly swift or mournful and lugubrious. This is a complete change of mood to everything they've produced previously, for the better; here they sound alive and excited to be playing. It's encouraging to note that everything hangs together very well, strung together by the imperious guitars.

Some highlights include the thunderous opening of 'Cold Hope' which explodes into a menacing dirge, the delay-heavy 'WST' which recalls fields of the Nephilim's big-hatted gloom and the delicate, swoopy 'It Stared At Me'. The stacks of pitch-perfect riffs – Pelican's greatest export – are still front and centre, just with a new fringe.

It's weird to see a band so set into their aesthetic lurch violently out of socket. In this case, it's very pleasing to observe, and especially satisfying when Pelican could so easily have phoned this in. It's especially good that this is a success because we need something to tide us over until Halloween (146 days and counting).