12/9/2010 - Review by: Etiam
As if Neurot Recordings didn't have enough Neurosis-related projects already, here comes Shrinebuilder, featuring Scott Kelly on guitar and vocals. But a quick glance at the remaining lineup: Dale Crover, Scott Wino, and Al Cisneros--proves that this project is more than just another indulgent offshoot. Rather, 'Shrinebuilder' is something of a Cliff Notes compendium of all the bands its contributors have participated in: (by no means an exhaustive list) Neurosis, Melvins, Sleep, and [whichever Wino project is your favorite]. For those whose metal odyssey somehow managed to avoid all of the above, this project is a fair aggregate of what to expect from these sludge/stoner/soundscape forefathers. The press material cites the 'greater than the sum of its parts' adage, and this is to some extent true--'Shrinebuilder' exudes a seductive, occultic vibe and solos that slither like the snakes on its cover. Solo-heavy vamps like 'Blind for All to See' have a heavy, hypnotic quality that draws on the members' combined decades of experience, and the album overall is a well-constructed and satisfying trip. However, like so many other ultra-supergroups, it doesn't quite deliver to the level of its pedigree, much less the holy revelation its title suggests.
That being said, it takes some serious skill to shift gears from the aforementioned 'Blind...' to the stuttering 4/4, 5/4 strut of 'The Architect'. With only four songs on the record, the margin for throwaway riffs is nil, and 'Shrinebuilder' is solid across the board. They don't deliver any single riff of monolithic force (e.g. the titanic swell of UFOmammut's 'Stigma'), but that is part of the point; Shrinebuilder is a complete construct, all parts complementary, and none trying to outshine the next. Indeed, the band deserves credit for putting the egos of its members aside and letting the music take over. This kind of self-sacrifice has long been a tenet of a genre that produces few outright superstars and sets a fine example for the next generation of metal musicians.
It comes as no surprise that the album was recorded in three days--it has the immediacy of production and organic songwriting flow that could only come from weekend jam sessions. But, at the same time, each of the members is such an experienced professional that Shrinebuilder never feels slap-dash or second-rate. Yes, it sometimes meanders aimlessly, but each track clocks in at under 10 minutes for a total time below 40--admirable economy from artists such as these. One unique quirk of the project is that each member contributes vocals--sometimes as lead, sometimes as an ominous choir--which adds to the sense that Shrinebuilder is a highlight reel pitch of each member's talents. While this approach does help bring some dynamism to an otherwise consistently trodding affair, some of the voices here are among sludge's most polarizing, and can make or break fans with their deliveries.
And yet, despite its strong foundation, 'Shrinebuilder' never actually builds up to outright excellence. In fact, the album leaves a positive but unexceptional impression not unlike the eponymous effort of another American genre supergroup--Twilight. That project, bringing together some of the US's best black metal minds, was widely panned for a debut that lacked cohesion and definition. Only when the band shuffled its lineup and proved to fans that the members were committed did Twilight succeed with its sophomore record. Shrinebuilder's debut set them on a better path from the outset, and there's no reason to doubt this lineup. However, it still may take them another try before their chemistry produces an album that satisfies their fans as much as this debut satisfied themselves.
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