In 2013, guitarist Trevor Shelley de Brauw and drummer Steven Hess began their collaborative career during an improvisational performance at Utech Festival in Milwaukee. Shelley de Brauw had previously lent his style of punishingly heavy yet refined guitar-playing to the post-metal quartet Pelican. Hess had blasted his way through aggressive drumbeats with the drone outfit Locrian. After adding Russian Circles’ founding member and bassist Colin DeKuiper to their ranks, the newly-formed group synthesized these various musical styles to fashion an inventive sound; one that both embraced the raw energy and plodding tempos of sludge rock, whilst also utilizing highly unique chord voicing and guitar harmonies.
This year, the band – now formally known as RLYR – have released their first full-length album, Delayer. A sprawling four-song album running upwards of forty minutes, RLYR’s debut offering is nothing if not experimental. Shelley de Brauw and DeKuiper harmonize their respective lines quite beautifully at times. However, their lowered guitar tunings ensure that they maintain gnarly tones throughout even the album’s prettier moments. The four songs that comprise Delayer develop quite slowly. This is perhaps best exemplified by the mammoth, 23-minute finale – “Descent of the Night Bison” – which opens with a dense collage of sustained synthesizers and subtle piano that evokes a more classically minimalist work. Even Shelley de Brauw’s guitar takes a back seat for the first ten or so minutes of the piece.
RLYR’s understated rhythms and melodies merely exaggerate the lethargic pace of their songs. Instead of employing the inflated guitar solos, rapid sixteenth-note beats and catchy melodic hooks characteristic of most metal music, the trio opts for a subtler compositional method. They firmly emphasize atmosphere over rhythmic or melodic complexity. The first half of “Reconductor” sees the band members trading simple quarter-note figures to achieve a deliberate rhythm as they slowly add notes to the guitar line. Hess’ percussive restraint allows Delayer’s songs to breathe, helping to bring attention to the subtle harmonic changes that occur.
Even some of more RLYR’s more exciting moments, such as the album opener “Slipstream Summer,” refrain from fatiguing the listener with excessive melodic content. Instead, they offer complexly interwoven layers of guitar. The entire album is very improvisational in nature; in fact, it almost resembles an extended jam session. As evinced by “Slipstream Summer,” the band often finds themselves improvising around one or two short riffs throughout the entirety of a piece, gradually adding more and more melodic and harmonic material as it progresses.
RLYR’s sound can be grating at times (this should be expected given its members’ respective histories). The trio layers thick, loud guitar lines periodically supplemented with discordant electronica. “Delayer” sees them apply this technique to jarring effect, as the shrieking synth drones clash with an impenetrable wall of sludge metal guitars. This style of composition will undoubtedly entice fans of densely-textured heavy metal. However, fans of more conventional rock music may find Delayer to be less engrossing. RLYR’s emphasis on atmosphere over melody, paired with their ponderous rhythms and harsh tones is hardly conventional. They adeptly incorporate metal timbres within a fundamentally minimalist framework to create soundscapes that are both abrasive and highly contemplative. While surely not the most accessible rock band out there, RLYR’s unique brand of atmospheric metal is surely worth the listen.