Can you make a metal album without distorted guitars? The Melvins tried with The Bootlicker, and like everything Buzzo and co. have done, your mileage may vary. Nashville’s Sky Burial decided to approach metal by way of post-rock, which, as you can guess by my review history, I’m pretty much instantly down with. These dudes came at me by way of Replenish Records, home of Vestiges, who I wrote about in Blast Radius a while ago, and that label has been putting out some pretty solid stuff (and makes most of their music available for free download!) so I decided to give Sky Burial a spin and see what I thought.
Okay, so you know how the basic post rock formula involves the long, slow, quiet buildup to the huge, loud crescendo? The tension-and-release thing? If that’s not your thing, you’re not going to like this record. With Where Four Rivers Flow, the payoff to that buildup takes a while. Like, not even the same track. The buildup begins on opening “Axis Of The World” and keeps going into the next song! Like, it’s not even there yet when the next song’s started! If you have a short attention span, this album’s not for you. And like I referenced in the first paragraph, this is nearly entirely clean guitar. The big metal moments don’t kick in until the final track, “The Last Thing You Lay Down”, and it takes a good half-hour to get there. I wasn’t even sure if I could write about this album for this site until the harsh vocals pop up ten minutes in. They’re not a major feature of the record; they appear rarely and, again, over clear guitars. Most of the muscle from this record comes from the drums-the ending of “Quietly” is a savage drum/vocal passage that gets you excited the first time you hear it-after an eight-minute buildup, shit’s about to get really heavy, drums are pounding, and then the song’s over and we’re back at the beginning with “From Out Of Obscured Light”. I couldn’t decide if I loved it or hated it. It certainly sent shivers down my spine, but I don’t know if it was from the power of the passage or the almighty blue-balling I just experienced.
When the last track kicks in and things finally get metal, you’ve almost forgotten where this album started musically and what you came to it for. I mean that in a good way. For such a slow-moving record, Where Four Rivers Flow manages to cover some surprising ground, and you don’t really notice until your ears perk up and you find yourself someplace else. It’s certainly minimal-outside of the occasional sample or strange sound, the bulk of it is just clean guitars, bass and drums, mostly playing simply and quietly. I’d say that this works in the record’s favor-it gives it a certain flow (har har).
If you don’t have much tolerance for post rock, you’re not gonna dig this record. It pretty much exemplifies the conventions of the genre; however, if you’re willing to look past that, it’s a pretty enjoyable little listen. But hey, Sky Burial, maybe next time don’t be so afraid to hit that distortion pedal?