Review Summary: Man's choice of tool versus claw (and the heavy-handed implications of this when things get carried away) is a theme that carries The Fifth Ape above most.
“...we don't develop technology because we are under the naive impression that we're improving life or making people happier. We develop technology out of a compulsion to develop technology, and we use technology because of a similar compulsion."
- David Gelernter
Dualities make for some great writing material. Mankind as a collective body is the single biggest ***-up in the history of the planet, as far as we can tell (which is kinda anthropocentric in and of itself). But as individuals, humans often have no idea of the role they play in the degradation of the planet. He has developed a food surplus that allows him to consume enough glucose to have to struggle with excess body mass, and then fight between gaining and losing weight. He has sexual intercourse (which nature designed to enable reproduction), but clothes himself with latex to prevent conception because he is afraid and (more often then not) unprepared to care for an infant. Man is still rooted in flesh, but his hyperdeveloped brain allows for metacognition and sapience, both of which are part of what make him a “person”. National Sunday Law is based around dualities. First there's the obvious, the band has two members, a guitarist/vocalist and a drummer/vocalist. On a deeper level though, the entirety of their sound is based around dynamics loud and quiet, heavy and light, an audial stampede and and ethereal caress.
The Fifth Ape
instrumentally begins with simplistic but solidly flowing arpeggios with a very clean bass note/synth underlining. It could go anywhere and be anything it chooses. It holds a chord, and tension develops as dissonant chord shapes dripping with distortion hang in the background. The now distorted arpeggios return, and then pounding drums join the track. Vocals (alternating between hardcore and death metal) sear over the mix, never impeding on the instrumentation but existing only where appropriate.
And then we're quiet once again. Soft chords with reverb (or perhaps synth), reminiscent of Radiohead's “How to Disappear Completely”, are held high above like a shimmering ceiling for the entirety of the track as an electronically manipulated sample takes the focus. “Before we devised artificial lights...and atmosphereic pollution...and modern forms of nocturnal entertainment...we watched the stars...” Soft bells twinkle here and there as another sample joins the mix, what could be Mandarin Chinese spoken with a woman's voice. Everything fades but the vibrating warmth of the electric ceiling.
Suddenly we are assaulted with doomy but powerful powerchords, and Intronaut immediately springs to mind. The drums, which are floor-tom and bass heavy, incorporate tasteful fills, helping to cover ground typically held over by a bassist. About halfway through, dissonant chords much higher in pitch are struck relentlessly with high and loud yelling; were it not for the prog-metal-esque drums, this section could be mistaken for hardcore. This lasts only momentarily, and we return to aggression. Soon enough, things begin to mellow. Clean vocals are layered in the vein of A Capella, with an inevitable (and smooth) transition into sludgy aggression.
The Fifth Ape
is quite possibly 2010's best use of tension. It flows and ebbs, bringing the listener into a place that's difficult to forget. The vocals are powerful and mixed very well, never being pushed on the listener too harshly. Often, the guitarist uses a rhythm pattern that quickly alternates between two parts, a distorted chord shape once for a fraction of a beat, and a few well-placed chugs. On paper, this sounds like it would amount to Meshuggah, but the effect is much more original. The heavy moments on The Fifth Ape
are well written and do everything they're supposed to, but they aren't fully what they strive to be; the lack of a bassist is a minor problem that the other instrumentalists do pretty well to cover with downtuned guitar riffage and drum fills. The Fifth Ape
isn't able to get by on heaviness alone, but that's not the band National Sunday Law is trying to be, anyway. This is much more holistically inclined, with the transitions and mellow sections being much more memorable.