Review Summary: "Planet of Ice" is an impressively cohesive and grand album, characterized by arguably the most inventive guitarist of the 21st century, Dave Knudson. Minus the Bear have become confident, mature, and they are one of the most creative and talented bands i3 of 3 thought this review was well written
For their third album, Seattle, WA band Minus the Bear
truly created one of the most consistent and naturally flowing albums of 2007. As the musical style of Minus the Bear is arguably dictated by lead guitarist Dave Knudson, it seems prudent to examine his style of playing on the album in order to get an idea of what the album sounds like. After relying heavily on clean, crisp polyphonic tapping on "Highly Refined Pirates", then moving to some experimentation with loops using the Line 6 DL-4 on "Menos El Oso", the style evident on "Planet of Ice" builds on the foundation of the previous two albums. The sound is best characterized by heavy DL-4 use ("Knights", "White Mystery"), but the riffs on the album seem to take more of a grandiose, epic feel, with more variety of effects present than on previous efforts. For example, on album opener "Burying Luck", the main riff in the song can be summed up in two words: whammy pedal.
After a few minutes listening to "Planet of Ice" it is clear that the band has begun to introduce more synth sounds into their style (perhaps a small clue towards more recent material, notably the very synth-heavy "My Time"). Also evolving are the vocals of lead singer Jake Snider. On "Planet of Ice", Snider's vocals seem to take on a more desperate tone, with more emotion than the somewhat flat, easy going vocals of earlier material. All these slight progressions coalesce to create what sounds to be a very confident and mature style for the band. Speaking of maturity, it is clear that "Planet of Ice" is by far the most mature album Minus the Bear has created. Gone are the downright ridiculous titles from their earlier albums (e.g. "Monkey!!! Knife!!! Fight!!!), being replaced by darker, more serious themes. Instead of lyrics about drinking and partying more suited to Akon, songs like "Burying Luck" and "Ice Monster" tend to give off a sense of urgency and desperation. In fact, lyrics like "I could give *** all what you do to me, just leave her out of this" (from "Ice Monster") seem to show themes of commitment and responsibility, which is definitely in contrast to previous lyrics.
Individually, every song has it's own memorable moments and qualities, leaving no song forgettable or skippable. "Planet of Ice"'s greatest strength is how the album flows from start to finish. It is apparent that the album can be split into two halves, denoted by the ambient and slow-building "Part 2", track 6 on the album. The first half is characterized by a bit more emphasis on effects and Knudson's loops rather than the more traditional guitar sounds of the second half. After the small break of "Part 2" to recover after the sonic bombardment of the dark, heavy track "Dr. L'ling", "Throwin' Shapes" seems to depart from the sound of "Planet of Ice" back to the more typical indie rock of "Menos El Oso". While this feels a bit unnatural, and is arguably the weakest point of the album, the final three tracks more than make up for it. These three songs take Dave Knudson's guitar playing to the next level. From the beautiful, flowing riffs of "When We Escape", to the groove of "Double Vision Quest", there are enough jaw-droppingly impressive moments in these two tracks to make the album incredible on their own. However, "Planet of Ice" is pushed into the category of "one of my favourite albums of all time" with the final track, the 9-minute "Lotus". Everything on the previous nine tracks seems to build into one of the most compelling songs I have ever heard. Easily the most epic song the band has done, "Lotus" finds all five members perfectly in sync, with stunning guitar work (notably the final 3 minutes), excellent vocals, and precise drum work.
After the final, unexpected turns of "Lotus" have faded, one thing is clear in the haze of the complex and disorienting sounds of "Planet of Ice": it rocks.