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Grown Below : The Long Now

Grown Below first effort takes a lot from the progressive '70s Rock scene. That makes all the difference.

The Belgians formerly known as Timer describe themselves as an Antwerp-based Post-Rock/Doom/Post-Metal band, which is not necessarily a good thing. To be honest, the whole Post- label has always seemed a little inaccurate; being as much a reprise of early avant-garde experimental pioneering as any real succession to the mainstream parent genre, itself a constantly-evolving beast. The arc from Post-Rock - with its wilfully intellectualised eclectic use of instruments, unusual time signatures, melodic repetition and minimalist dissonance tapestries to Post-Metal, taking in a number of Sludge/Doom influences along the way, effectively defined a particularly narrow niche in which to work and especially to innovate.

Into this tough arena come Grown Below, with a conceptual take on the destruction of time and descent into absolute nothingness at the hands of ageless, endless beings. Although the riff-heavy, extreme vocal sections don't stray too far from the Isis/Cult Of Luna genre blueprint, that storyline wouldn't look out of place printed on the back of a Nektar album and the spacier, mellower passages strike me as owing something of a spiritual and musical debt to their 1971 debut 'Journey To The Centre Of The Eye' - itself a British Psychedelic variant on the Krautrock school.

That's not to say 'The Long Now' sounds just like a '70s album the vocals are obviously in a more modern style and both the musical and production technologies are clearly a product of recent times. In particular, the typically Post-Metal bass-heavy mix with equal instrumental prominence is a long way from the guitar-led of older Psych-Rock. However, the constant melodic, percussional and contrast shifts and the atmospheric distortion effects have distinct roots in much older themes and, for me at least, that adds a lot to the appeal of the release.

It doesn't start enormously promisingly, with the 13-minute 'Trojan Horses (They Ride)' coming in on a complicated, oddly-timed drum/guitar riff that sounds like a Tool cast-off. Survive the first three minutes or so, though, and it all gets decidedly more interesting, switching to acoustic/ambient dreaminess and clean vocals. Admittedly, the singer is a little out-of-tune and forced in this style, but those flaws also introduce a certain emotional genuineness to proceedings. From there, the song builds hypnotically and steadily to a loud and fast climax, then fades into more quiet dreaminess.

The following 'Devoid Of Age' is a short, Post-by-numbers piece of heavy riffing that cuts loose quite a lot of noise, but achieves little else. The next innovation comes with the violin leading into and weaving throughout 'The Abyss', which also features an interesting harmonic interplay between lead and female backing vocals. It's another long (12-minute) piece which alternates between spacy ambience and heavier, sludgier riffing, and climbs to an impressively surging crescendo before dropping into the brief but enjoyable experimental minimalism of 'Minaco II . Nebula'.

'End Of All Time', at 13 minutes, follows a now-familiar pattern set by the previous longer tracks. It doesn't add much that is new, but the musical interplay from light to heavy is slick and uncontrived and the clean vocals sound a lot less strained. It would be my favourite piece overall, but for the closing section of the 16-minute highlight track 'The Long Now', with its sublime use of female backing vocals layered over a climbing, urgent bass-driven riff that finally crashes into hoarsely screaming sonic torment. After that, closer 'Malklara' is simply an ambient outro that gives a bit of breathing space to fade the album away.

Overall: well, a very pleasant surprise in a part of the musical spectrum I wouldn't normally be venturing too far into. The Post-Metal elements largely serve to reinforce my opinion that it is a bit of a hidebound and constrained backwater as far as genres go, but the incorporation of more innovative Post-Rock and other experimental influences do much to rescue the album from being just another stereotype. There's a lot of talent on display by the band, quality songwriting even where the material isn't especially original, it is handled well and the concept hangs together effectively with the music. A convincing debut, and I'll be interested to see how they progress in future from this solid start.

Reviewer's rating: 7.5/10


Tracklist :
Trojan Horses (They Ride)
Devoid Of Age
The Abyss
Minaco II . Nebula
End Of All Time
The Long Now

Duration : Approx. 67 minutes

Visit the Grown Below bandpage.

Reviewed on 2011-12-02 by Mike Liassides
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