Tuesday, April 01, 2008

If you go down to the woods today...

Dead Meadow - Old Growth

A telling title, Old Growth. Referring to what we Brits call "ancient woodland", the term suggests at once both the primeval and the evolutionary - and as such it's perfect for Dead Meadow's latest full-length offering.

On the one hand, it's largely familiar territory to Meadow afficionados, an album hewn out of 70s hard rock and stoner metal played by three men who seem to have been raised to the sound and on the philosophy of Black Sabbath's 'Sweet Leaf'. On the other, it's a natural progression from its predecessor Feathers, a development of sorts if one which actually involves the Bostonians pruning back their trademark rambling jams to a more conventionally manageable length.

A huge fan of being borne off on the backs of the unfettered beasts of Shivering King And Others, though, and having once witnessed them play precisely four songs in supporting Mogwai, I'm uncomfortable with what is, relatively speaking at least, a new-found sense of focus. Only opener 'Ain't Got Nothing (To Go Wrong)' is allowed to drift beyond the six minute mark (drab final track 'Either Way' only lasts for nearly eight minutes because of the electronics tacked onto the end), and it's the clear stand-out. Tellingly, its closest rivals for that status, 'Till Kingdom Come' and 'What Needs Must Be', would both rank as lesser lights on previous albums.

Elsewhere, the self-restraint seems artificial - paradoxically, the "growth" turns out to be a self-imposed inhibition - and the consequence on tracks like 'I'm Gone' is a disappointing conservatism. That it's followed by 'Seven Seers' and 'The Great Deceiver', tabla-heavy psychedelia and lumpy Led Zep blues-by-numbers respectively, doesn't help.

Dead Meadow have always been sonic somnambulists, but at times on this record they do just sound tired.

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