22 November 2019 (released)
04 December 2019
In 2010, a huge gap was left in the heavy music scene; post-metal titans Isis had disbanded. Though not technically speaking its progenitors, Isis did more than most to give post-metal its identity. Specifically, the ability to be monumentally heavy without being angry and to allow extended periods of calm linger on their albums without need for a blood-curdling smash cut to terror. As the aquatic imagery of their artwork suggests, Isis conjured a wall of gradually evolving sound that would grow like a tsunami fit to topple mountains. Singer Aaron Turner did yell with a mighty bellow but it always felt like the rumble of tectonic plates shifting rather than a grown man having a tantrum as do many metal outfits. His voice seemed to just be another piece of the instrumental score.
Since then, the post-metal community has grown significantly. Acts like Chicago's Pelican and Russian Circles have led a scene that carries forward the ethos of what Isis stood for, creating layered, hypnotic and pummelling heavy music. Enter Saskatoon's ambient metal slingers The Basement Paintings. The quartet from Canada's frozen hinterland prairies deal in a patiently developing post-metal that is a direct descendant of Isis, so much so that they even collaborated with Isis drummer and renowned producer Aaron Harris on their 2014 EP Time Lapse City. Their latest album Antipodes explores dualities; from major opposing ideologies right down to the infinitesimal binary that comprises the tapestry of consciousness.
Far from a typical rock or metal song structure, The Basement Paintings' tracks are progressive in nature. Not in the overused and ambiguous “prog” sense, simply referring to anything complex, arrhythmic, jazzy, or esoteric but truly progressing from one part to the next as an evolution. The music should be thought of as ripples in the water surging to hefty waves that crash and retreat from the shore. Drummer Calen Miller bangs out tom heavy rhythms mixed with a certain dulled boom to act as the undercurrent that stirs the waters from the depths. With the absence of vocals and the highly textural nature of the guitar work of Justin Thompson and Paul Hillacre, it's incumbent upon bassist Evan Knouse to lead the progression of the songs through their swampy dirges and soaring swells. His bass cuts through the mix with a sharp midrange without losing that fundamental low end that glues each piece together.
A slow ominous fade-in leads to siren-like guitar echoing out over a steadily ratcheting rhythm section to open the lead track 'Instinct'. The band settles into a nice deep pocket, the lofty guitars finding a jet stream to ride with their loosely tethered melodies and cawing dalliances. Krouse's deftly shifting basslines guide the changes with a dynamic ramping up before each overflowing transition. His mid-rich bass is complimented by some easy chorussing to pluck it out of low-end obscurity and let it be featured front and centre.
The second piece 'Gnosis' exhibits some similarities in rhythm and mood to Tool's 'Pnuema' from this year's Fear Inoculum. Miller lays down a gorgeous tight-but-loose groove that gives the band this nebulous, fluid framework to dance around. Their intertwining lines eventually coalesce into a tom-pounding, hammer-on bass syncopating bridge which grows to collapse under its own weight, once again gelling back into a continuation of the initial groove. The transitions are subtle and organic throughout. Far removed from the harsh contrast of the quiet-loud paradigm introduced by rock n roll and perpetuated by grunge. The band is working in terms of scores, electrified symphonies.
The voltaic transitory track 'KO-AN' patiently hangs arpeggiated chords of fuzzed-out bass in the air, leaving room for reassessment and contemplation. A meditative palette cleanser. The dynamic 'Ziggurat', one of two 10+ minute opuses has a majestic shimmering quality to it. The luscious sonic ecosystems created by the band once again invoke an intrinsic natural beauty. Listening is like taking in a view from a mountaintop. An infinite multitude of actions are taking place below but they all move together in an instinctive harmony. The title track closes out the album, letting the album drift off into the cosmos with the vibe of an astronaut, cut free from his spaceship, floating into oblivion. The track's sparse drumming and unobtrusive melodies let the listener transcend in one final push into the beyond.
Antipodes is a gorgeous album start to finish. Patience is the name of the game here and these four lads from the Paris of the Prairies exhibit it in spades on this album. They let every melody ripen on the vine, allowing the album's rolling climaxes to come when they're good and ready. The post-metal scene is by no means barren these days, branches have grown out in all directions from the genre that was birthed in relative obscurity in the '90s but as for the beautiful, organic style that Isis originated, its legacy is in very capable hands with The Basement Paintings' latest offering.