Friday, December 4, 2009

December 4: Dead Meadow, "Shivering Kings And Others"

Artist: Dead Meadow
Album: Shivering Kings And Others
Year: 2003
Label: Matador

One of the greatest feats a band can accomplish is making a modern record that is so perfectly executed, that it sounds as if it could have been recorded decades earlier. While many bands attempt to do this with the mid-1960's pop rock sound, as well as countless bands trying to duplicated the magic energy of the late 1970s punk explosion, an overwhelming majority of them fail and come off and little more than second-rate copycats. One of the bands that unquestionably succeeds in creating a new take on a classic sound that could have been released in 1973 as easily as 2003 is Washington, D.C. based psychedelic-metal masters, Dead Meadow. Presenting a stunning blend of deep, dark sonic landscapes that scream of Black Sabbath and completely unique vocals that made their music like no other, Dead Meadow stand today as one of the most amazing and exciting bands on the planet. Truly masters of the "wah" pedal, there music is the absolutely perfect balance of psychedelic exploration and the power of metal, which is something that very few other bands have ever been able to achieve. Having released five albums since 2000, Dead Meadow have proved that they are able to consistently write equally fantastic songs, and there is not a bad song anywhere in their catalog. Even though each of their albums is truly spectacular, it is on their phenomenal 2003 release, Shivering Kings And Others, that Dead Meadow reaches their musical apex, and the album is by far one of the most stunning and powerful records ever released.

Though the band members all met at a punk show, and released their first records on the label owned by Fugazi's Joe Lally, they are about as far from a punk band as one could possibly imagine. Far more Pink Floyd then Pink Flag, the meandering music and delicate vocals pack an amazingly powerful and mesmerizing punch. Yet even with this spacey, psychedelic influence, the overall mood and volume of the music is far more aggressive and louder then anything from either genre, and this is where the true genius of Dead Meadow lives. Shivering Kings And Others was originally released as a double LP, as Dead Meadow is not a group that writes short songs. With the dozen compositions clocking in at just over an hour, Shivering Kings And Others is a musical experience like no other. Filled with some of the most intense musical journeys ever recorded, the songs on Shivering Kings And Others present an amazing juxtaposition between the beautiful musical patterns and an unquestionably cold, often menacing mood that permeates the entire record. From slower, trudging compositions to more fast paced, burning numbers, Dead Meadow proves that there are countless variations on their unique sound, and each of them is equally powerful and amazing to experience.

The band began has been a three piece almost their entire career, and the fact that so much power and energy can be created by only three people is nearly as stunning as the music itself. Originally the brainchild of drummer Mark Laughlin, bassist Steve Kile, and guitarist Jason Simon, the original lineup of the band shifted shortly before the recording of Shivering Kings And Others. About a year before recording of the album commenced, Laughlin left the band and was replaced by an old friend of the band, Stephen McCarty. Amazingly, the second incarnation of the band proved to be just as powerful, and there is no large change in the bands' sound or style. The core of the music of Dead Meadow is without question the stunning guitar playing of Jason Simon. Truly a master of the "wah" pedal, Simon creates some of the most awe-inspiring musical lines that have ever been heard. While he proves that he can "shred" with the best of them, Simon is more about presenting amazing musical textures and exploring the song to its fullest. Equally as impressive is the bass playing of Steve Kile, as it is often he who gives the songs their dark, melancholy moods that make their music even more intriguing. Kile's playing is also where the heavier aspects of the music of Dead Meadow lives, and whether at the front of the mix or taking a more subtle moment, his musical genius touches every song. The bands' newest member (at the time), McCarty, shows that he clearly understands the sound and mood the band aims for, and it is one of the most flawless member transitions that has ever occurred in music history. Making the songs bounce and drive, few drummers of his generation have shown as much pure talent, and the combination of these three musicians yields a sound that is truly unparalleled in the entire history of recorded music.

Though he is first and foremost the guitar player, Jason Simon also handles the vocal duties for every song on Shivering Kings And Others. It is through his vocals that the songs receive their amazing "finishing touch," as Simon's voice is like that of no other performer ever. With a high-pitched sound that is reminiscent of Perry Farrell, the vocals are always set slightly back in the mix, and they seamlessly move in and out of the music. This technique enables the vocals to swirl around the songs, creating a mesmerizing mood that is unlike that of any other band in history. Jason Simon's performance on every song of Dead Meadow is the ideal embodiment of a band that wants the vocals to be as much of an instrument as any other; as opposed to a vehicle for lyrical delivery. This is not to say that the lyrics are second rate or less important, as the band writes lyrics that are equally as superb as their musical performances. With profound thoughts that can be read in a number of ways like, "...the leader of this land, thinks that evil has a life of its own...don't he know the shadows that he sees, are nothing but his own..." the songs on Shivering Kings And Others can often be seen as more than just idle words. Yet even when the group appears to be making strong statements, or when they are lacing their brilliant music with vivid words, the songs remain completely captivating and the combination of all these elements is what makes Dead Meadow so fantastic.

While the influences on the music of Dead Meadow, from Sabbath to Zeppelin to Hendrix, are quite clear, it is on their first record for Matador Records that the band finally finds their own voice, and create a musical effort that in unparalleled elsewhere in music history. Making their own brand of heavy, psychedelic sludge-rock, Dead Meadow are without question one of the most uniquely talented bands in the modern music scene. Creating stunning musical landscapes that are truly hypnotizing, the trio that recorded Shivering Kings And Others make their case as some of the finest musicians of their generation. The rhythm section of Kile and McCarty are absolutely fantastic, with their heavy textures setting a mood like no other. Intertwined with the extraordinary guitar work of Simon, one simply cannot find another band that so perfectly executes such an amazing sound as one finds on every song from Dead Meadow. Capped off by the unmistakably sensational vocals of Simon, the songs on Shivering Kings And Others are nothing short of pure musical bliss, and one would be hard pressed to find a more original and intriguing band then Dead Meadow. While their previous and more recent releases are well worth owning, Dead Meadow perfects their wonderfully distinctive musical sound on their absolutely brilliant 2003 release, Shivering Kings And Others.

Standout tracks: "I Love You Too," "Shivering King" and "Raise The Sails."

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