Tera Melos - Tera Melos
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Throughout my history with music, there have been a few bands whose technicality and insanity have made me think "inconceivable." It started rather mildly with Thrice and that reaction has expanded since to include bands like fordirelikesake, Hot Cross, Dillinger Escape Plan, The Fall of Troy, and most recently (and most inscrutably), Tera Melos. My introduction to this band came from punknews.org, who had reviewed their eponymous one and only LP release on Springman Records. After liking what i read in the review, I went to their purevolume and heard two songs and was immediately sold. Since then I've been trying to buy their album, all but unsuccessfully until tonight after seeing them live at Bottom of the Hill. This band is pretty ferocious and blistering in studio, but live, they bring the rock and don't stop until every face has been melted. Not since Dillinger Escape Plan have I been so overwhelmed and impressed by a live performance.
The story behind the band is that a few members had been part of "legendary" Sacramento bands and were looking to play a different type of hardcore. One of the members met the future drummer at a jazz improv class and picked him up for a few practices, which ended up spawning Tera Melos. In just a cursory history, it's apparent that there is a melding of styles from both the punk and jazz realms, and there is a focus on ingenuity and originality. Their sound is shockingly original. Imagine a band drawn and quartered by the atonal noodling and time signatures abnormalities of Dillinger Escape Plan, the blazingly fast yet melodic riffing of The Fall of Troy, the spastic drumming and orchestration of Hella, and the angular indie feel of Braid, all the while sounding like The Mars Volta done with more punk and even more intensity. Oh ya, they're also all instrumental (excepting a few embedded vocal parts in Melody 2, 7, and 8). The technical aspects of their music are so absurd, it's shocking that not only do they pull it off live, but they pull it off in style, often jumping on their backs and cartwheeling around stage.
To start, I was a little underwhelmed by the album's intensity. After seeing them live and being into the fervor of the show, the album seems a little bit watered down. It's tough to be able to produce a tightly played studio album that isn't diluted when the band is this caustic and over the top. It's partially in the recording quality, which is understandable as Tera Melos is on an indie label and can't spend a bajillion dollars on an immaculate recording, but, it's partially in the songwriting too. Instead of being the unyielding beast I saw live, the album has a lot of experimental moments like a 3-minute long nintendoesque synthesizer solo, or, all of "Melody 8." In the same way many were put off by the excessive ambient noise on The Mars Volta's Frances the Mute
, I was put off by the superfluous stretches of noise. I even like the song "Melody 8" but I'd rather trade it in for 28 minutes of the truly rockin stuff.
With that said, this album is impossibly brilliant. I have never heard a band that comes close to this style. Dillinger Escape Plan has the technicality but doesn't have the catchiness or potability. The Mars Volta has the progressiveness but doesn't have the spazziness. Cap'n Jazz has the catchiness but doesn't have the overt technicality and actual jazz influences. It's really tough to place a genre or vocabulary of understanding to this band, but it's even tougher not to dig and respect what they're doing.Their songs have a lot of stop-start dynamics, free jazz breaks, and huge punk/hardcore sections, all while staying really uniform in genre. All of the styles are wrapped up very tightly and very few musical choices stick awkwardly out of the songwriting.
Even then, for me the songwriting doesn't even matter next to the technicality. It reminds of reading the novel "The English Patient" by Michael Ondaatje. While the story of that book was amazing, I cared less for what he was saying, and more for how he was saying it. The book was written so beautifully and lushly that I read to see how Ondaatje would create a beautiful phrasing or line over how he'd develop a character or plot (though he did that masterfully as well). Tera Melos reads like well-crafted poetry most of the time. The guitars are angular as fuc
k. There is a huge jazz influence here, but it's been thrown through a post-hardcore blender. A lot of the harmonic choices are very rich and jazzy but they come across through quickly alternating block chords or quickly arpeggiated chords. Nothing is static. One of my favorite techniques they use is in their tapping riffs. They'll use double hand tapping but instead of tapping both hands on the same string(s), the guitars will tap out a melodic line with their left hand on the 4 higher strings, and tap out a right hand bass line with their right hand on the 2 lower strings. Beyond that, these sections really sing and carry a melody instead of sounding like wankery or circus music. The bass also has some cool techniques. The bass is less overtly technical but will use unique playing patterns to achieve that angular sound as well. Also, the bassist does a lot of cool slides to imply notes at the start and end positions of the large slides making a lot of the resolutions the bass realizes to be implied, which is a sweet sound (reminds me of the harmonic richness of Mingus) amongst the equally elusive guitars. Probably even more elusive though is the drumming, which is unbelievable. Live, it is absolutely ferocious, and while subdued a bit here, still manages to switch up feels, time signatures, and tempos out of the blue. I feel like the true power of the band comes from the drum's ability to harness a punk beat, swing into jazz, and then resolve into an off time indie (think Owls) beat, as if it were no sweat. I'm willing to consent to the wild changes the band makes because it is pulled off convincingly. Tera Melos never looks over its collective shoulder.
All in all, this album will fuc
k your father in the shower and then have a snack. Original, ingenious, bombastic, rich, unyielding, indecipherable. That's Tera Melos for ya.
Recommended for fans of: Dillinger Escape Plan, The Fall of Troy, The Mars Volta, fordirelikesake, Thrice, Gatsby's American Dream, Dream Theater, Sufjan Stevens, Cap'n Jazz, Braid, Owls, Charles Mingus, The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower, Off Minor, Hot Cross, Circle Takes the Square, Frank Zappa the most intense thing you've ever heard in your puny little life, mortal.
Recommended Tracks: Melodies 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 (tracks 4 and 6 can be found at http://www.purevolume.com/teramelos)