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ALBUM REVIEW: O’Brother – Endless Light

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It’s always a risk for a band to make changes to their sound and their creative process. It can end up sounding forced and awkward. O’Brother have managed to dodge that bullet – in fact, it’s more like they’ve held up their hands and stopped it completely, Matrix-style. That risk has produced Endless Light, and it is probably their most haunting, experimental, thought-provoking record to date.

In the run-up to the album’s release, vocalist Tanner Merritt said that the band had been obsessed with the use of empty space as an instrument, deliberately cutting parts they didn’t feel were necessary rather than piling them on top of each other to create as much noise as possible. The result of that is that this, their third album, sounds cleaner and more balanced that anything they’ve done before. There’s barely ever one part that dominates the others, be it vocals, guitar, drums or bass: each member sounds like they’re contributing to a larger whole, helping to create the dark, brooding atmosphere that permeates the whole album, while also allowing each track space to breathe.

Don’t worry though, none of that means that Endless Light lacks the heavy, sludge metal edge that the American five-piece have made their own. Bloodlines ends with a huge, pounding guitars, and latest single Your Move really starts to hit stride once the moody ambience is broken by a grimy Queens of the Stone Age riff. The difference is that they are given more weight by the quieter, more atmospheric sections around them. Burn starts with just an acoustic guitar, the beginning of the title track is full of eery, echoing moans, and Time Is A Length Of Rope and I Am (Become Death) intersperse their bursts of crushing guitar noise with completely bare vocals.

In fact Endless Light‘s most interesting moments all come when the band go a bit experimental. There’s a great tempo change in the middle of Black Hole, which turns out to not be a tempo change at all – drummer Michael Martens simply changes his pattern a little and the whole song shifts, skilfully keeping everything moving while nudging the listener slightly off-balance. And those massive sludge-metal guitars we mentioned in Bloodlines? Switched from the minor key used in the rest of the song, into the corresponding major one. They’re subtle changes, but they help keep you on your toes, never letting you settle into your comfort zone and contributing to the brooding atmosphere that permeates the whole album.

Risk, change, experimentation – call it what you want, but the important thing is that it helps a band to grow, improve, and create things that keep both them and the audience interested. And if that’s the sign of a top quality group, then O’Brother are showing all the signs of becoming one.

7.5/10

Standout Track: Your Move, Bloodlines

For Fans Of: Thrice, Manchester Orchestra, Isis

Written By: Josh Prentice

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