Sunday, May 6, 2012

May 6: Dead Meadow, "Beyond The Fields We Know"

Artist: Dead Meadow
Song: "Beyond The Fields We Know"
Album: Dead Meadow
Year: 2001

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 2001 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 2001 self-titled début that Dead Meadow reaches their musical apex, and there are few moments in their catalog on par with their mind-blowing song, “Beyond The Fields We Know.”

From the moment that the track begins, there is a murky, yet completely engaging mood, and in many ways, this sound can be heard as the ultimate combination of the early sounds of heavy metal, and the full spirit of psychedelic rock.  It is the ways that the guitars of Jason Simon seem to flutter across the track, and few performers in history have so perfectly mastered the use of the “wah” pedal.  The movement that his sound creates is second to none, and as the track progresses, he digs deeper and deeper into the groove, pulling the listener along on one of the most uniquely blissful sonic journeys ever recorded.  Yet it is the way that his sound interacts with that of bassist Steve Kile that becomes the most captivating aspect of “Beyond The Fields We Know,” as there is just the right amount of “sludge” within the tone of his bass to give the song an edge and mood that is completely unique.  It is within his playing where the “darker” feel of the song resides, and yet he manages to execute this sound and mood without ever becoming even remotely cliché.  Drummer Mark Laughlin shows a similar connection with the guitars, as he is clearly “locked in” with the overall sound, and the assortment in fills, tempos, and overall percussive sound that he brings gives “Beyond The Fields We Know” a sonic diversity unlike anything that had been heard in decades.  It is the way that the trio move as a single unit, navigating this “dark jam” that one must hear firsthand to properly appreciate, as it is truly a spectacular musical moment.

Though he is first and foremost the guitar player, Jason Simon also handles the vocal duties for every song on Dead Meadow. 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.  In fact, one can see the lyrics to “Beyond The Fields We Know” as outright poetry, and the meaning within can be interpreted on a number of different levels.  The words themselves speak of an icy, wintery setting, and this very much reflects the overall tone of the song.  Yet it is the way that Simon delivers the words that pulls the listener further into the song, as it is clear that he understands how to make the job of a vocalist become as essential within a “jam” setting as the music over which he sings.

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 all of Dead Meadow makes their case as some of the finest musicians of their generation.  The rhythm section of Kile and Laughlin 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 entirety that is “Beyond The Fields We Know” is nothing short of pure musical bliss, and one would be hard pressed to find a more original and intriguing band then Dead Meadow.  Though each of their releases is well worth owning, it is their first album that stands above the others, and there may be no more stunning or definitive moment within the Dead Meadow’s catalog than their magnificent 2001 track, “Beyond The Fields We Know.”

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