Initially, Forever Becoming sounds like a strange new path for Pelican. The Chicago instrumental post-metal band is known for peaks of crushing riffs and valleys of contemplative melancholy. The foreboding guitar swells of opening track “Terminal,” with its ominous droning layered over massively reverberating drums, ultimately gives way to a bleak spare melody. It’s one of the most haunting tracks the band has ever recorded.
But as the second song, “Deny the Absolute,” makes clear, Forever Becoming is actually a crusher of a metal record, with the band casting away the post-rock dynamics it has been known for in favor of a sound that can best be described as New Wave of British Heavy Metal-meets-Nineties emotional hardcore. This is not Pelican’s most sonically ambitious record (that honor goes to sophomore release The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw), nor its most concise (that would be 2007’s City of Echoes). Rather, Forever Becoming is the band’s most savage and air-guitar-inducing collection of songs yet.
Trevor de Brauw and Dallas Thomas’ wall of guitars on tracks like “The Tundra” and “Immutable Dusk” is equally indebted to Master of Reality-era Black Sabbath as it is to Diary-era Sunny Day Real Estate. Even when de Brauw and Thomas briefly lift their feet from their distortion pedals, as they do in the middle of “Immutable Dusk” and the bleak and discordant “Threnody,” it never feels like the darkness is far away. Unlike the cathartic and uplifting The Fire in Our Throats, Forever Becoming feels absorbed in a kind of sadness — albeit one that’s ultimately cleansing.
The members of Pelican have evolved from young men stringing together sweet, heartfelt riffs into heavy-rock elder statesmen articulating their interiority with aplomb. It’s a dark place, apparently, but one worth visiting. (Southern Lord)