Progressive metal imbued with American folk
Music, at its most basic level, is either pop or progressive. Either it fits the established template of pure entertainment, or it stretches the limits of music ability, understanding and, on occasion, tolerance. Across Tundras, with their combination of metal, country blues, and psychadelia are firmly in the second bracket. Presenting their own 'Magnum Tundras' in "Sage", they are firmly in the mould of bands such as Genesis and King Crimson. They are going back to the essential roots of their own country's culture – in this case, America – and plundering it for lyrical and musical themes, and weaving that into a cross-genre melting-pot of musicality.
'In The Name of River Grand' evokes an epic and darkened soundscape version of the American experience. It was made for cowboys and Indians to ride into town to, or for gazing across deserts and dustbowls. But whilst seeping with history and tipping its hat to traditional American Indian culture in the drumming, melodies, and lyrics, the sound is thoroughly modern and bridges the gap between tunes and progression. And it's a complete album – the tracks are held together with a theme but each song doesn't get lost behind an overarching storyline. 'Hijo De Desierto' and 'Buried Arrows' are comparatively standalone, short compositions with hooks that sink into the soul: "Every night I dream of water... cool, clear water..."
Unafraid to touch on the darker sides to their cultural heritage but also to bring in bright countrified melodies, AT add gracefulness and a quiet dignity to their subjects. It's about the whole album, an emotional response to the blending of all these supposedly separate sounds. It's not a departure from the themes Across Tundras have already explored through their previous offerings, but sounds altogether more complete. Lethargic, heavy laments swirl easily into psychadelic washes of guitar arpeggios and native drumming, topped with introspective, whisky and sun soaked vocals.
The album gets progressively darker with 'Tchulu Junction', and 'Mean Season Movin' On'. The clouds gather, the mood grows more ominous, but the vocals as steadfast as ever. The danger builds; the desperation and fear is brought into reality as the volume and power increases. Yet all the time it's only ever simple melodic lines, and the tension is in the subtleties of volume and the pitch of Tanner Olsen's voice. But be warned, along with the purely instrumental transcendental beat of Shunka Sapa, these are more self-indulgent in their timing and sprawling, eclectic extended instrumental explorations.
A must-have for fans of intelligent metal and accessible progressive rock. Not so essential for metal purists and fans of short records.