Sequels can be hit or miss. Actually, if we’re being totally honest here, sequels generally are way more miss than hit. A lot of times they are created not necessarily because the creator has more to say, but instead to reap in the cash awards that will come with droves of people wanting to see the follow-up. Therefore, substance takes a back seat to style.
But not all sequels are disappointments. Take, for instance, “Landless,” the new record from Portland-based band Eight Bells, who created this piece as the follow-up to their excellent debut “The Captain’s Daughter.” The person who was lost at sea last time has returned only to find no one is waiting on the other side. The idea is crushingly sad. If we’re equating this record with any movie sequel, you could make the argument that this is “Empire Fucking Strikes Back” levels of fulfilled anticipation. That, obviously, was the original title until George Lucas Lucas’d out. Don’t argue with me. This second record not only should catapult Eight Bells into the hearts and minds of metal fans who don’t mind crossing a ton of boundaries, but it’s an early album of the year candidate that fascinates with every damn listen. And I’ve spent a ton of time with this thing.
So, I mention metal, and this is a metal site for the most part, but that’s not an completely accurate tag to put on this band. There is so much more. From the progressive sections, to the enthralling arrangements, to the lush vocal harmonies that push the story, to the propulsive drumming, this group–guitarist/vocalist Melynda Jackson (formerly of Subarachnoid Space), bassist/vocalist Haley Westeiner, and new drummer Rae Amitay (Immortal Bird, Thrawsunblat) create weaving, winding tapestries that are melodic, dark, hypnotic, and often leave you breathless. This also is an album you should digest as a whole from the opening sound bed right through to its abrupt finish five songs later. This is an adventure, especially emotionally, and it manages to take what they accomplished on their first record and blow it into the stratosphere.
“Hating” opens the record with sounds emerging and stretching over the horizon, and as the song develops, so do the layers. The track moves coolly until it finally bursts open, with power swelling, atmospheric guitars lapping, and the singing pushing its way through. The track settles into a stormy mid-tempo, with the final minute letting the bass bubble to the surface, a glaze of keys add a shimmer, and the drums rumble out. The 12:46 title track follows, and it’s one of the best songs to be released so far in this young year. We begin with kinetic riffs, the tempo charging, and the music exploring, reminding of Rush on more than a few occasions. Jackson’s and Westeiner’s voices meld together before the earth tears apart and wild shrieks take control. But it sweeps back to the calm again, following this pattern over the bulk of the song. As the song progresses, it gets spacier and foggier at the same time, feeling dark and lonesome for stretches and sinking into what feels like eternal nightfall. Then the final minutes strike, and it is explosive. Furious growls smother, while the main riff returns, each member pours all of their emotion into the song, and the end mixes dreamy gaze and volcanic thunder.
“Hold My Breath” has another great riff that feels like it jolts electricity, with great, harmonious singing leading the way, and punchy, yet scenic, playing setting the scene. The song hits the gas, speeding along and doing some bruising, though it eventually sinks into calm and comes out the other side bleeding colors. Jackson and Westeiner join forces again, making you think you’re shifting into softer waters until the blazing starts anew. The vocals are howled, the pace rips apart everything in its wake, and the calls of, “Hold my breath,” rings out to bring the song to its finish. “The Mortal’s Suite” is a shorter one, opening like it’s going to be an interlude with classical splashes to the music and a rush of sound. But then singing trickles in and numbs the senses, while the guitar calls out like a lonely siren. “Touch Me” brings the record to a close, starting with swirling vocals, interesting textures, and the body of the track seeming to float into the clouds. The music hovers, with the guitars churning and burning and melting over top the song. As the piece moves along, the intensity builds and works into a dizzying display. The guitars mesmerize and disarm, while the playing crunches and pounds away, and the abrupt ending tears your breath away. There are parts of this record that stay jammed into my head, and it usually results in me going back and taking the trip again.
I have no idea if any readers take my recommendations to heart, but seriously, go out of your way to hear this record. Eight Bells have created something expansive and uniquely creative, and “Landless” is an album that will stimulate you mentally even if it makes heavier your already bruised heart. As far as sequels go, this one raises the bar insanely high. Hell, if it was just a stand-alone journey, it still would be insanely rich and rewarding.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/eightbellsband
To buy the album, go here: https://www.facebook.com/battlegroundrecords
For more on the label, go here: http://www.battlegroundrnr.com/