Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Love History - Anasazi

Love History - Anasazi
2000, The End Records

Beneath all of the original instrumentation here, underneath the far-flying female/male vocals, the melancholy melodies and soaring harmonies, the ringing, chiming, strummed or slow-picked acoustic guitars, the bright scintillating synth tones or washes and almost (at times) pop music-influenced keyboard work, there lies a grinding, pulverising, heavily rhythmic thrash metal band. That's what is so ironic about this release: while Love History, in keeping with the now established The End Records tradition, strive to push the envelope of 'originality' (more on that later) and musical innovation, what keeps this entire thing together, what makes it work, what makes it move, is the fact Love History are an accomplished traditional metal band underneath all of this: the heavy kick drum-bass guitar-muted chord rhythm section in this band is just plain entertaining to listen to. They are very tight, very focused: experts, really, at pacing themselves through a variety of thrash time signatures. You know who they remind me of? Metallica, circa Master of Puppets. The notion that one takes away from repeated listenings (peering in a strained fashion beneath the evolving drama of surface tones and melodies, down to the spinning engine of the beast, far below) is that half of this band thinks they are in a death/thrash metal group, the other half believe they are in a folk rock band. Interesting, mainly, because they manage to play together somehow...and they make it sound like it all fits in as a whole (such is the wonder of music), although I guarantee you it is in a style and fashion that will be bewildering upon the first few listenings. As label head Andreas warned me, this is music that you have to let grow on you...

What remains bewildering about this band is that they really don't directly reference any other musical groups in the course of these songs - through their music, through their choice of melodies, or through their own style. Face it, we have all come to expect such things from our metal, and while most of us crave originality in our music, we lose faith in the face of a band that doesn't seem to have any link to the past at all. Love History are extremely, exquisitely talented at using all of the different elements of 'extreme metal' (there really isn't anything extreme about this release other than their personal combination of these same elements) in a new way - not by blending them together haphazardly, in an experimental form and fashion, but by using these elements of style to naturally expand their paths of expression - to allow themselves new sounds and methods of creating music. The band themselves may think of themselves as being 'experimental', but I really don't hear that in this music - all of this sounds like the work of a band that knows exactly what it is doing, and the only reason it may come off as 'experimental' to its listeners is because our definitions of what is traditional and what is avant-garde are just too limited, in any case. In a perfect world this band's music would be understood as easily as any other's, I suppose. No, the reason this music sounds original is because this band just has something original to say...it's as simple as that.

Much like another album this label put out earlier, Sculptured's 'Apollo Ends', this music is challenging not because the musicians have deliberately set out to fight against preconceptions and make that battle the sole focus of their material (even though there is that element in Sculptured), but because they have challenged themselves far earlier, when they were building their own unique style, and the result of this concentration is a natural outflowing of music later, in a new vein, on a new path. This again goes back to what I was saying above about being experimental: there is a sort of awkward groping, pausing, straining, and reaching in experimental bands when they decide to venture into unknown territory - the blind reaching towards any source of light they can find. I never really hear that awkwardness here...it all sounds planned, well-executed: the music is very well laid out and thoroughly researched. It just happens to be in a new style - all the experimentation, one feels, has already been finished, and we get to hear the results after they have been filtered, polished, and readied as works of art. If nothing else, this speaks volumes about the respect Love History has for their own music and the demands of their listeners.

In any case, Love History mix together and blend, as I said already, a wide range of instrumentation - acoustic, electric, and bass guitars, pounding metal drums, more subdued percussion, clean female and male vocals, death or 'brutal' vocals, keyboards, and a variety of other sound sources. But it is not enough to just simply list all of these and then somehow feel as if one has 'explained away' the secrets behind their style. If this band used only the most traditional instruments, I think they would still be completely original: their uniqueness lies in the ways they combine their individual instrument sounds, and in the melodies and harmonies used, not anything else.

So, again, as I began to say at the beginning of this review, what attracts me to their style is the range of contrasts they offer. When you start listening to this music, you have a choice of what exactly to address your ear to: one could, for example, listen consciously and with full attention only to the rhythm section, or to the more melodic parts, or to the vocals, or whichever section in the listening space one chose to concentrate on...it takes a certain level of concentration to be able to listen to the entire band, all at the same time. There are six people in this group, after all. But Love History's music splits easily into readily-defineable segments of sound and styles because it was written (I am guessing here) in that fashion - it works on different layers and levels all at once, and the educated ear can be used to pierce through those combinations and pick out the different structures as they are passing by in the stream of music. When separated in this way, they are almost always worthy of examination...but when gathered together again in the understanding, when they are recombined in the mind, the effect is never less than surprising...and thoroughly impressive...I am very much aware of the amount of work and time that must have gone into the composition of this material, one rarely sees such dedication anymore...

Ultimately I don't think an album of this sort can be recommended for everyone, as it would probably go over the heads of the average listener - but who am I to say such things? Listen to it and decide for yourself. If you are bored of conventional metal bands and are looking for something new to offer your jaded ears...by all means look towards this band...I don't think many of you will be disappointed...