As involved and heavily populated as the metal globe is right now, getting something new that makes you wonder what the hell is going on is becoming a rare occurrence. Actually, usually when I do feel this way it’s over a record that makes my insides turn in a bad way and that ends up in my e-mail trash bin.
That changes today with the arrival of the peculiarly named BearstorM. Yes, you read that name right, and no they don’t employ wacky gimmicks nor do they have eye-killing T-shirts nor do they grate at the nerves like the name might indicate. They play an amalgamation of black metal, death metal, prog, American folk, and Southern rock that sounds like it should not make sense but totally does. Well, that is if your brain is willing to handle the insanity going on here, because right from the start, this band and their latest album “Americanus” (a re-recording of their 2013 record by the same name) will dump you on your head. The band plays with insane skill and precision, though never at the expense of the music’s heart, and the vocal are pretty damn grisly. This record is bound to not be for everyone. I just realized that the “grating nerves” thing I mentioned earlier might actually come into play for some people. But I love the inventiveness and skull-spinning devastation of it all, and it never ceases to astonish me.
The band is made up of Michael Edwards on vocals; Kelsey Miller on guitar and fiddles; Greg Bates on guitars; Jay Lindsey on bass and midi synth; and Patrick DeRoche on drums. This Richmond, Va., based unit also uses the power of their imagination and storytelling on their albums, as debut “Horrobilus” told the tale of banished thief going to the Baba Yaga for help, which comes at the expense of his life. He re-emerges as a bear (perhaps a hint toward the bane name) and consumes his human form, but after seeking revenge, he finds he has his own cost to pay. Heady. “Americanus” is a little stripped back from that, instead concentrating on the history of the North American continent and its transformation and destruction from both natural and human forces. It’s a wake-up call of sorts.
The story begins on the 11:22 brain-melter “Glacial Relic/Riparian Forest,” a song that gives you little time to prepare for this band’s ways. Strange, cosmic guitar work erupts, leading into a death prog explosion that’s both baffling and surging. The growls are harsh and feral, as they are for the bulk of the record, and later the music heads for the stratosphere. There are sequences of crushing and then settling, which go back and forth, and after one final violent burst, the band heads back toward the front and wraps the song up nicely. “De Soto” blows open, with the band whipping up a storm and the melodies feeling Rush-inspired at times. There’s a lot of challenging, jar-you-awake stuff here, bleeding into the song’s final valley of Southern-inspired melodies. The final moments are dressed in banjo and rustic underpinnings, which gives the track a nice campfire feel. “Little Portals to the Greater Sadness” has a spiraling, flurried opening before the thing toughens up and starts throwing haymakers. The melodies then come in and cause mild dizziness, with the growls taking on an animalistic tone and the guitars having a Thin Lizzy-esque fire to them, making the song perplexingly catchy before its gruff end.
“Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” begins with guitars burning brightly, and then it slides into old-style Mastodon territory, which is a positive. The growling leans toward a melodic end, like a monstrous sing-song terror, though later that turns into gurgling growls. Toward the end, musical sparks fly, molten soloing erupts, and the band totally bashes your brains in. Closer “Glacial Relic II” is an 8:53 finale that starts with fluttering guitars spiraling into Southern-style sludge. The guitars start jabbing with the pointy end, as the melodies that swell up stymie and confound your mind, and just underneath all of that murk, the growls crawl. The band goes back to the swarming, humid guitar work before taking an unexpected jaunt into the stars where cosmic blips arrive, strings strike, and the final sounds you hear are water trickling and birds calling. Perhaps this signals the world turning back to natural roots.
Certainly BearstorM won’t be for everyone’s ears, as they can be a little bendy and harsh for some (it actually took me a few tries to completely warm up). But I like an adventure, and the music on “Americanus” keeps me wide awake and wondering what’s next, even on subsequent listens. That’s how many curves and back roads they take on this record, and while it might make your neck hurt the following day due to all the twists, you might find yourself morbidly interesting in taking this ride all over again.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/bearstormRVA
To buy the album, go here: https://grimoirerecords.bandcamp.com/
For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/GrimoireRecords