I was in a recording studio in Wicker Park, Chicago, where my band was sequestered for a week, when I first heard of Pelican.
In the control room one day, we noticed a shelf of canisters holding reels of two-inch tape, a surprising number of them labeled "PELICAN." We assumed that since the band had gone through so much tape (we'd used half of one reel on a full-length record), they were some froofy jam band, the kind with swirling guitar arpeggios and a 15-piece drum kit.
But when the studio engineer played the tapes, what thundered from the speakers was anything but.
We were listening to an unmastered, unmixed version of Pelican's first demo, straight from tape, and it was still the heaviest thing I'd ever heard: massive down-tuned guitar, alternately clavicle-shaking and delicate, huge plodding drums and ridiculous layers of low-end. If we were stunned, it wasn't by the technical achievement of making such a heavy recording, but the deafeningly profound result.
That was in 2003, and a few months later Hydrahead Records re-released the four-song demo, known now as the Untitled EP. Since then, Pelican, which was formed by three-quarters of the grind outfit Tusk, has been busy. Featured in scads of both national and international music rags, the quartet has set a demanding touring and recording schedule.
Pelican's mastery of instrumental metal became more apparent on their debut full-length, Australasia, which drew critical praise from every opinion that matters. Their second record, The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw, only cemented their reputation as the wizards of cathartic narco-rock.
Employing a blend of doom, sludge and stoner metal, Pelican is adept at communicating -- without words -- what most lyric-based bands struggle their entire careers to convey. It's a stew of carefully calibrated noise and glutinous, droning guitars that somehow, unlike music from a lot of bands doing the slow-rock thing, manages to avoid quietus or stolidity, and actually sounds uplifting.
Sure, it's heavy and totally rocks. But Pelican's style of rock, by hook or by crook, carries purpose.
-- Aaron Retka
Pelican with These Arms Are Snakes, Kane Hodder and Harrison Bergeron
Darkside, 2106 E. Platte Ave.
Thursday, Oct. 6, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $10, all ages; visit sodajerkpresents.com.