Head and the Heart
8/11/2004 - Review by: Etiam
You have heard something like Deadbird before. Sunn Model-T heads on top of Orange cabinets; swaying, half-time power chord progressions; pitchy bellowed vocal lines; bubbling snare fills; dolorous vocal samples scattered through the pensive (but still pentatonic) acoustic interludes; overdriven bass noodling out the roots. Et cetera. Admittedly, the Arkansas quintet first released 'Head and the Heart' in 2004, a touch before the morass of mid-aughts of sludgy metal reached its critical mass, and in a time when beards were not ironically overgrown. But still--standout records from any era should weather the lapping tides of also-rans and sound fresh to old ears. Deadbird, it would seem, do not.
Ticking off these expected genre boxes is a quick way to gain traction within a scene, but it also works to the band's detriment when they force the issue--the descending dirge riff halfway through opener 'Sadness Distilled' would have packed a hefiter wallop without the vocal line shouted out above it, and 'Mount Zero (Is Burning)' has some similarly tentative moments. But the technique works, effectively highlighting the pummelling passages and unbridled shrieks that follow in both instances.
And that attuned sense for dynamics may be Deadbird's most distinguishing asset; despite the obviousness over their framework, Deadbird do switch up enough of the finer stitching to keep 'Head and the Heart' from blurring together. These range from the passing and deliberately subtle--the self-administered vocal tremolo effect in 'Rorschach Sky' is reminiscent of Diagnose: Lebensgefahr--to the show-stopping--the flurry of Krallice-challenging tremolo towards the beginning of the epic title track. Riffs are given their worshipful due, as is customary in this style, but few have the totemic power to sustain an entire song. Rather, Deadbird rephrase and rearticulate their material in a way that speeds the song along without leaving an indelible impression. These are not riffs that would first come to mind when trying out that new $200 fuzz pedal. This may also be due in part to the production, which, although it gives full weight to the guitars, is just too hot. The high end is crammed with too much cymbal noise and the midrange too stuffed with over-satured guitars. The result is aurally fatiguing, not emotionally draining.
For all that, 'Head and the Heart' remains a relatively engaging listen, with its inspired passages more effectively dispersed than the sophomore 'Twilight Ritual'. That record front-loaded its best material--admittedly more memorable--while 'Head and the Heart' is a differentiated effort, its pacing as much a product of necessity as of prudence. In their ten year existence, Deadbird have only managed to release those two LPs, and perhaps a third effort might have been the charm. But the tides of sludge are changing, leaving fewer names to carry the torch and longer breaks between records. So one does have to wonder--what would really be left for them to say?
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