Saturday, October 1, 2005

Review: Gollum - Lesser Traveled Waters (2004)

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Lesser Traveled Waters

Wow. It's rare for me to utter that weighty syllable when listening to an album for the first time. Lesser Traveled Waters from North Carolina's Gollum  brought forth that expression of wonder right from the start, and still after many spins I find myself captivated by the tapestry they've woven. Comprised of fragments spanning the metal spectrum, as well as some elements of the Electronica and Industrial kind, this album is as close to being a masterpiece of artistic metal expression as I've heard in a very long time.

Categorizing Gollum's sound is an exercise in futility, as nearly every style and type of metal can be found here. Far too many bands have tried blending the sometimes conflicting metal subgenres into a cohesive, understandable mix. Most who've attempted such alchemy have failed, but Gollum have succeeded with Lesser Traveled Waters and bestow unto the world of heavy metal an album pleasing to both the ear and the mind. To illustrate my point, I'll use my favorite track on the album - "The Burden of Ubiquitous Scars" - as an example. The rumbling beats from drummer Hunter Holland give the song a traditional metal feel, while the down-tuned riffs from Frank Stroehmer lend a contemporary flavor. His lulling leads shortly after the song begins bestow a dreamlike quality, which is heightened by the vocal harmonics of guest singer Abbey Wade. Josh Norvicki adds an Industro-Electronic element to the mix with his well-placed samples. The tune continues on in this mesmerizing fashion, bathing the listener in waves of aural comfort, until well past the three-minute mark when Hunter unleashes a furious blast beat to pummel the warmth from your bones. Frank grinds his six-string in a crazed assault, wrapping up the track with a mood of heightened aggression. Such is Gollum's formula throughout the disc.

Notice that I did not mention any actual "singing". "The Burden of Ubiquitous Scars" is like the majority of the tracks on the album and is devoid of traditional vocal parts. The samples from Josh provide an interesting and poetic substitute for lyrics, and I think had Gollum gone with a singer throughout the album much of the mysticism of Lesser Traveled Waters would have been lost. There are two tracks, however, where the band bends their pliable rules and engages the vocal services of guest artists. "Cross-Pollenation", the third track on the disc, explodes from the speakers with a demonic howl from Randy Blythe (Lamb of God). The song continues in the vein of a straightforward shoutcore composition, with Blythe's sick vocals backed by extreme riffs from Frank and jackhammer blasts from Hunter. "Tears for a Finite Moon (Dreams of a Perpetual Night)" is the other track with full vocals, this time provided by Dixie Collins (Weedeater). Some Kyuss-inspired fuzzy riffs and maniacal beats provide a lengthy intro to Dixie's tortured rasps.

The most ambitious song on the album, and the one which serves to define Gollum as succinctly as can be done, is the epic "The Dissolution of Faith". A four-part journey through the band's influences, the listener is treated to Yes-like progressive elements combined with stoner riffs, death metal beats, and a multitude of atmospheric enhancements. With so much going on, it's understandable to expect such a cornucopia of sound to be burdensome and distracting. The opposite holds true, however, as each passage flows smoothly into the next with clearly defined transitions that make sense and are properly arranged for maximum impact, even if that impact isn't immediately comprehended. As complex as Lesser Traveled Waters is, it's still accessible enough to "get" on the first listen. Subsequent spins, though, reveal hidden nuances and twists that will continue to build your admiration for this band.

Lesser Traveled Waters is, in a nutshell, moving. The trance-like qualities, psychedelic soundscapes, and furious aggression are worked off of one another to deliver an album that can be played with your attention fully focused on each twist and turn of sound, or as background atmosphere to both relax and stimulate you after trudging through the daily grind. Fans of Mastadon, High on Fire, Dream Theater, etc. will all find something about this album that strikes a chord. Gollum has very recently signed to Cordial Records, so keep an eye out for these guys.

Track Listing
1 Snakepath 4:02
2 Refusal of the Call 4:56
3 Cross-Pollenation 4:01
4 Amor Fati 1:44
5 The Burden of Ubiquitous Scars 4:37
6 Reclamation of the Essence 5:25
7 Absence of Seraphim 1:26
8 The Dissolution of Faith 9:40
Malevolence of the Forsaken
Despondent Search for Truth
Reckoning and Catharsis
Commiserating the Flock
9 Tears for a Finite Moon (Dreams of Perpetual Night) 3:39
10 Fall of Penitents 2:04
11 Beyond the Storm 4:30

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