The post-metal subgenre operates under an unwritten but easily discernable mission statement – a sort of amplified Hippocratic oath that extends to every practitioner. This oath silently proclaims that post-metal bands must reach for the ineffable. The subgenre exists as a program for attempting to capture that feeling, to transduce into musical form skies as big as dreams, sunsets supersaturated with hues sublime, verdant forests, churning oceans, supernovas, cosmic gas clouds, crumbling cities watched from grassy windswept hillsides, soaring hopes and gliding birds.
The Grasshopper Lies Heavy have put their name into this conversation, but their thirty-five-minute instrumental Every Man for Himself and God Against All album exhibits a reserve that is refreshing in one sense, but somewhat disappointing in another.
Let’s face it, the post-metal field is crowded with idealistic, ambitious young men and women whose reach exceeds their grasp well over half the time. Still, when someone gets a good grip on that feeling, be it for a few minutes or, god willing, a full album, the results are breathtaking. This is why TGLH’s relatively unambitious compositions on Against All are so striking. To be frank, the album sounds like an above-average jam session that was nurtured until it became a suite. This is solid music, but somehow naïve, like something one would hear at a battle of the bands and hum on the way home, melodies perhaps to be remembered, perhaps to be forgotten by the next day.
Do TGLH know who they are up against? You’ve got your Explosions in the Sky sect, your Mouth of the Architect, Giant Squid, Cult of Luna sludgemongers and your virtuoso Animals as Leaders, Scale the Summit class. Don’t forget Isis! Pelican! Minsk! Russian Circles! There are too many to name, and each one actively striving to claim some piece of the majestic. It is endearing, then, and sort of courageous, the way TGLH have simply put their heads down and barreled through their art. But post-metal is a particularly crowded market – a band has to set themselves apart if they want the big font on the festival lineup.
TGLH have put themselves boldly into the marketplace, though, and for listeners who like this sort of meandering, unadorned music, …God Against All is a good ride. There is a good deal of variation and texture between the guitar (James Woodard), bass (Mario Trejo) and drums (Chris Cheveyo), and TGLH make wise melodic and rhythmic choices throughout. The viscous flow of …God Against All is reminiscent of Old Man Gloom’s Seminar III: Zozobra, which is damn fine aural company to be in.
There is only one true crescendo moment on …God Against All and it happens in “Part V,” the album’s final song. A mournful, white-hot guitar lead lances out into languid space, rising in terraced increments to some electrified pinnacle of release and revelation. Maybe TGLH were cagier than we gave them credit for, saving their best for last, and using it only once. The unfortunate truth about post-metal is that the frequent rises and falls can often foster feelings of mistrust and exhaustion. Sometimes it feels like there’s an emotional glass ceiling up there, and by bumping up against it so many times, post-metallers make its upsetting presence more and more obvious. Ascents begin to feel contrived and, in the worst cases, cynical and insincere.
Every Man for Himself and God Against All spares us all of that. The album won’t dazzle you, but it won’t screw you around either. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy have kept their aims within their reach this time, and in doing so, created a platform for launch into higher spaces – should that be a mission they accept.