One had to wonder what Pelican's signing to Southern Lord could possibly mean. To be truthful, while the band did write and perform more structurally formal material on 2007's City of Echoes, they retained their trademark post-metal aesthetic -- percussive repetition, overtone basslines, and nuanced guitar riffing. On What We All Come to Need, they have taken it not a step further, but a step more inside that aesthetic. The concentration here is on songwriting rather than riffing. There is a decidedly more melodic bent here than on any of the band's previous releases, and yet, given the album's production -- it was produced, engineered, and mixed by Chris Common -- it's also heavier, if that's possible.
What We All Come to Need is decidedly more lyrical, though it's also more powerful post-metal. The deliberate muddiness and "sonic thud" on their former recordings is gone here, making this the most sonically and compositionally accessible album they've cut thus far. The band enlisted help: bassist Ben Verellen from Helms Alee adds a guest bass part on the album opener "Glimmer." The track opens with some controlled, ambient feedback, an lower-octave melody line asserts itself in earnest on a single guitar before the crunch of the power riff follows. That melodic guitar, though, winds itself right inside all that heaviness, and is so songlike it drifts in and out of solo territory without losing that quality. It's like a shoegazer tune inside the bone-shattering racket the rest of the band makes. Isis' guitarist Aaron Turner makes an appearance on the title cut, one of the odder and more beautiful cuts on this set. Melody is right up front from the jump here, it controls the dynamic. Sometimes there's a wide swath of space around it, while at others the guitars, bass, and drums wall it in with their own songlike progression before Trevor de Brauw's almost unbearably beautiful solo.
Sunn 0)))'s Greg Anderson adds a third guitar to "The Creeper," helping out Laurent Schroeder-Lebec by adding a kind of harmonic sense of the tune's main riff and pulverizing chorus line. This is the most menacing, metallic cut on the set. And in fact, it doesn't sound like Pelican at all. This is big, fat, power metal riffing slowed to a midtempo crawl. There is another first on this set; the presence of Life & Times' Allen Epley vocalizing on "Final Breath," the album's closer. It's a doomy, crawling, atmospheric number. Its lyric was inspired by Scots poet Robert Burns' "Red, Red Rose." Even here, though, the harmonics and melodic lines woven through the punch in the mix are dramatic and dynamic, touched by the influences of both middle-period Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine, but sounding unmistakably like Pelican -- even with a singer. Another notable is the truly menacing "Strung Up from the Sky," with its rumbling distorted bassline, kick drums, and lower-than-low-tuned tom-toms. What's remarkable is that when the track takes a more laid-back approach and guitars begin to weave in and around one another, creating another theme, the sense of foreboding and evil in the mix is more pronounced. This is a new step for Pelican, one that takes what they do best and turns it on its head without giving it up at all. This is still insanely large-sounding music, and is heavy in the extreme, but its new tenets give listeners more to hold on -- and perhaps dream on -- than simply low-tuned, ponderous riffing.