Review Summary: DC's Mist-ical power trio.
Life Beyond were not a nationally-known act, but they had the power to enchant in an instant. You hear the ruckus rumbling through the walls outside the club as you’re paying for your ticket and getting your hand stamped, thinking to yourself, “Is it me, or does that sound pretty good?” But it’s the first band, some local schlubs tacked onto the bill at the last minute – not the all-powerful headliner that you forked out hard-earned pennies to see! But then as you get through the doors and get scanned and frisked and fingerprinted and they check the serial number on the side of your cell phone, then you shout at the bartender, right in her ear with five earrings several times, only to have her point at a sign that gives you basically three choices of canned beverage. After all that, you approach the stage and decide it actually does sound pretty good. You’re already doing that sort of elephant-sway thing with your head. Life Beyond was that type of band.
Already seasoned journeymen of the Baltimore/DC metal scene way back in 2000, (all 3 members flirted with thrash bands in prior lives) they groove with mystical qualities that only a power trio can muster. Now, it’s a good idea to approach an album with ‘planet themes’ on the cover with a certain degree of caution - some bands just drone away on the same bits for too long, trying some sweet-leaf induced form of levitation, musical chops long burned away in clouds of bong smoke. But Life Beyond has a lot on offer. Lyrically rather positive, life lessons and course-corrections described with wisps of hippy enlightenment. Freakish longhair guitarist Danny Kenyon coaxes blazing low-end riffs and memorable wah-solos for the duration of the record, his vocals strong and heavy (talented vocalists are not always a given for bands of the Maryland doom scene). The zigzag changes and rolling tom-workouts of drummer Gus Basilika are fluid, while bassist Louis Strachan (he’s become sort of a legendary 4-string nomad in the DC doom underworld) is all over that thing. You won’t believe the funk comin’ outcha speaker when his distinctive burbles start dancing over that rhythm.
The album is a decent gateway drug into the world of DC stoner metal, built as it is on shimmery downer-jangles and grungy riffs (think Alice in Chains) coexisting with the blues-based classic doom thunder of Sabbath (think Ozzy-era). The swirl of these two styles is so complete, so blended, it’s impossible to predict where one will segue into the other. Something like “Keep You Well” slides from Jerry Cantrell-like open guitar oscillations to gut-punching heaviness and back again, the whole thing riding on the shoulders of Strachan’s jazz-like bass workout. The 6+ minute “Endless Sea” follows a similar pattern, clean and trippy pushing against lumbering bombast with riffs that just thump the chest. But just when you think Life Beyond are all about dispensing grunge in a doomier package, something like “Old Fashioned Spirit” confounds the notion with it’s big-bottomed 70s Sabbath groove, the band really stretching their trio superpowers as Kenyon lets the rhythm guitar fall to the wayside, surfing the grandiose bassline, delivering the line “Lord knows what we could do If we just give a little love!” dispensing the freewheeling love juice with gusto as the band blasts away into a ragged Iommi-informed stomp along the lines of ‘A National Acrobat’.
The high point of the disc is assuredly “Dejamnesia/Out of a Dream”, an exercise in both of the aforementioned styles, dark riffs tumbling out of the sky on top of one another. The squallish intro coalesces in a dreadful fist-banging Hand of Doom-style pulse. At the song’s apex, it’s a churning exhibition of moody psych melodies breaking against aggressive low-end sonics. Translation: an exercise in badass doom jams.
There’s a lot to enjoy, some of the songs feature extended jams for several minutes before the first vocal – a sort of lost art nod to prog’s monster days. But the heavy/trippy vibe of the record doesn’t really build tension in the purely Sabbathean sense, some of the aforementioned tracks change gears almost too quickly, riffs dropping without warning. Even the best Life Beyond songs come across as segments stapled together, but the level of musicianship is high enough to hide the patchwork. Kenyon incorporates some harmonized segments, and while it does beef up some of the solos, it’s widely unnecessary. I’d like to hear less rhythm guitar – certainly the rhythm section can carry the proceedings. Plus, there’s no single track here distinctive enough to challenge the might of early Obsessed or Pentagram.
Ultimately Life Beyond make all the right noises, flaws few and far-between. Fans of AiC and Sabs should be all over Thousand Vision Mist.