Review Summary: Primal in character but sophisticated in execution, "Festival" is a multi-faceted EP that solidifies National Sunday Law as a standout metal act.
It's astounding how often mediocre bands consistently become huge while far more interesting artists remain in the shadows. Sure, there are the heavyweights of progressive metal like Tool and Mastodon, but the vast majority of bright ideas aren’t coming soon to a music store near you
. Unfortunately, National Sunday Law’s work has so far fallen into that vast majority. The band’s 2012 EP Festival of the Horned God
arrives too late for most “Best of…” lists, but it’s certainly one of the more pleasant surprises of the late year for fans of sludge and post-metal.
When National Sunday Law were last heard from on their EP The Fifth Ape
, their sound was in flux between sprawling post-rock complete with Godspeed-style samples (“City Dwellers”), and what sounded like a Baroness record played at half speed. There were some decidedly compelling moments -- the eerie, spiraling guitar riff to “Joshua the Anchor” comes to mind – but the ideas had yet to really coalesce. Two years later, the band’s sound has shifted significantly. Here, songs evolve over several minutes, with dissonant guitar riffs skittering over thunderous doom-metal chords; acoustic guitar interludes tread lightly over Derek Donley’s seismic drumming as he maximizes the impact of each tom hit and cymbal crash. There are a number of ideas that permeate the album’s lyrics, including paganism and spiritualism, supported by the cave painting-esque bucks on the cover and the occult-nature song titles (“Theriocephaly” means having the head of an animal, while “Antoillier” is Old French for “antler”).
The music has a distinctly primal feel to it, as if guitarist Darin Tambascio’s percussive vocals are the war cries of early mankind, perhaps reminiscent of fellow Los Angeles act Intronaut on their 2008 breakthrough Prehistoricisms
. When questioned about the album’s themes, Tambascio stated that, “Nature, humanity and art are the closest thing we know to spirituality…humans are just like other animals, but with bigger brains.” This spiritual aspect brings to mind the works of Neurosis, and the rumbling guitars and hypnotic shouts of crushing opener “Theriocephalic” support this notion with a distinctly “Through Silver In Blood” vibe. The band's songwriting really shines here with things stretched out, notably during the controlled paranoia of epic closer “Preservation In Stone”. Over its eleven-minute run time, the song moves from caustic, swirling riffs to mellow interludes, evokes Red Sea
-era Isis with its pummeling middle section, and ends with a delicately-constructed outro that brings the album to a calming, cathartic close.
National Sunday Law have been steadily carving a niche in experimental metal that hints at their influences but has a very distinct sound thanks to the duo’s dynamic songwriting. If you enjoy bands that blend soft and heavy elements and manage to make it all sound natural, don’t hesitate to look into Festival of the Horned God
. This one will take several listens to sink in, but Festival
is an album unlike any other that should prove quite rewarding to post-metal enthusiasts.