Review Summary: 8 melodies / 10
One thing I miss about Tera Melos is how they once seemed essential to the math rock scene. The movement benefited vastly from the group's output, and that was one thing about its debut that really spoke to me-- each section of Tera Melos
was integral to the greater whole, that being the scene from which it derived. It’s a feeling I haven’t gotten with the band’s most recent material (most notably X’ed Out
,) but no matter how rough and impromptu Tera Melos
feels as a whole, it’s clear that these musicians laboriously crafted their music to a science, for purposes of propelling math rock to an entirely new level.
I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Tera Melos’ bassist Nathan Latona a few months ago, and it was particularly illuminating in regard to the band’s history. The one thing that stuck with me most was how the band's debut, as well as the time period from which it came, was incredibly exhausting for Tera Melos. It’s interesting to look at Tera Melos
within this context, because sometimes the record comes across as carefree and even melodically straightforward. But the band spent a lot of time perfecting each transition, and ensuring the end product moved as smoothly as originally intended. So in this light, Tera Melos
comes across as arguably the most self-damaging record the band has released yet. It’s not hard to picture the band rehearsing “Melody 5” over and over again, perfecting the track's grueling intro until inevitably, one of the coordinators slips up. When viewed in this light Tera Melos
is unfathomably tense, and exists only because its writers somehow endured the ordeal.
Some may even say that Tera Melos
' existence reflects a band going too much out of its way to be successful. That’s why it’s important to look at “Melody 8”-- the end product of a band that has exhausted its resources so much, to the extent where it feels the need to catch its listeners off-guard with almost 30 minutes of pure noise, no less. I’m sure there are some enthusiasts of the band, or maybe fans of avant-garde music, that argue “Melody 8” to be an important piece of the debut. And while I’m willing to listen to those viewpoints, and while it is an interesting thought to entertain, it’s initially difficult to imagine the song with any discernible purpose for the album.
Fortunately, "Melody 8" goes against the grain of Tera Melos
overall-- the rest of the debut possesses relatively logical song structures. When I say “relatively,” I only mean more
logical than “Melody 8"-- the rest of the album is still quirky, creative and unpredictable. But at the same time, there is a very cohesive and logical structure to them, and the ebb and flow between melodic and discordant songwriting is what makes the songs breathe. With “Melody 8,” it seems Tera Melos took these ideas of thematic discord, elements used sparingly in the rest of the album, and utilized them to create a largely inaccessible monolith. The purpose of the group writing the song and including it on Tera Melos
probably had to do with the fact that the band really enjoys catching its fans off-guard, and this does help to justify the song’s existence a bit. It’s far more reasonable to figure that Tera Melos pulled a prank on its listeners, just to find out how many of us really would wait 28 minutes and 45 seconds for that final moment of musical resolution (spoiler alert-- it doesn’t happen.)
The album's conclusion isn't too much of a shocker when considering some other factors, though. Latona talked with me about how the band started off in a very punk-oriented scene, and how Tera Melos wasn’t too well-accepted within it. Apparently, the group didn’t adhere much to the “punk archetype” that had been conjured up, instead resorting to quirky songwriting antics and curious live performances. The band’s own version of being “punk” (a.k.a.-- not giving a damn about stereotypes) wasn’t the brand of punk its neighbors wanted, so Tera Melos did the logical thing and bewildered its detractors. And noise-and-improvisation-addled setlists play over about as poorly as 30 minutes of noise ending a band’s first proper album. So considering Tera Melos' origins, it makes sense their debut’s finale would be “Melody 8"-- why not
catch listeners off-guard? Isn’t it the ultimate irony, after all, that such a tightly orchestrated math rock pinnacle unravels by the time its denouement strikes? There’s a beautiful sense of humor about Tera Melos
, because even though the group knows how to construct beautiful music, it simply prefers breaking things down in the messiest way one could ever imagine. Maybe this is what math rock is all about, organizing proficient riffs only to smash them against the wall ferociously and feverishly. If this is the case, then Tera Melos carries home the biggest prize with its debut-- the most phenomenally flawed masterpiece math rock has ever seen.