The dense, crushing expansiveness of Pelican's four-song debut EP was an incisive slice through heavy metal's bloated corpse, with its pinnacle track — the appropriately titled "Mammoth" — being little more than a plunging meditation on a single bruising riff. Following that release with 2003's Australasia album, Pelican proved they could be as imaginative as they could be punishing, delivering six epic instrumental numbers, three of which broke the ten-minute mark. Since then, though, something has happened. The no-vocals-just-riffs scene has expanded considerably, with many bands far smarter and more elegant than Pelican stepping in to give the band a run for their money in the "epic metal instrumental" stakes. Thus, we find our boys living in Los Angeles (instead of their hometown Chicago), touring with Circa Survive and Thrice (rather than, say, Red Sparowes) and delivering albums of five-minute songs (that still don't manage to be as powerful as the brief "Mammoth"). Hanging around post-hardcore bands may mean that Pelican is still the smartest bunch of kids in the room, but they're also starting to look a bit like the guy who graduated high school a few years ago and still likes hitting on 10th-grade girls.

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Jason Ferguson