Review Summary: The Men Who Stare at Plants
Few terms will provoke black metal fans more than one simple tag. A stigma came to be attached to it ever since Deafhaven brought the splinter scene to prominence; it was never powerful enough for the kvlt crowd, who practically had pitchforks bared from the get-go, or it was too harsh for the atmosphere to flourish for ‘gaze aficionados. Either way, the category ran out of steam, be it by the adversity from observers or an unfortunate lack of key records—Sunbather had been a peak achieved far too early. Where Russia’s Show Me A Dinosaur fit in, then, is no different than any other aspiring blackgaze artist: waiting at a station when the train sluggishly ground to a halt several miles off-target. No more recognition is coming to the category that hasn’t already been distributed, and whatever artists could
reintroduce relevancy have switched their approach or gone dormant. Not only must the Moscow quartet endeavor to carve out a following as an obscure player in a grander market, they’ve been tasked with accepting the baggage of a field of music declared deceased by passing listeners. Transitioning to their third full-length effort as a band sees the group merge the separate realms crafted by their prior works. The post-rock that fueled their debut combines with the pure blackgaze methodology of the self-titled, bridging the gap that occurred between those two releases by maintaining the characteristics that made each successful. Any weary traveler still intent on discarding the blackgaze label unfortunately misses on what is inevitably a compelling evolution of a collective’s sound. On their latest album, Show Me A Dinosaur have realized their sonic direction to their greatest extent thus far, returning at the tail end of the year to deliver an engrossing experience.
At its heart, Plantgazer
is a disc that is steeped in a state of isolation not unlike that which currently plagues the globe. While the title is befuddling at first glance—staring intently at shrubbery is decidedly not kvlt—its context provides a more concrete definition; the band envisioned a reality where, on a gorgeous, sunny day, there’s no way to head outside. No life is allowed in the home beyond oneself. The only beings to interact with, then, are scattered houseplants, and there are predictably few conversations to start with them. Where the crew decides to go to match this is a dreamy, contemplative route that had already been explored on Dust. The lighter moments of contemporaries such as Deadwood are brought into a post-rock focus, the gradual development of tracks the primary focus as quiet strumming and gentle drumming act as preludes to evocative melodies. There is decidedly less technicality on display or dynamic shifts when compared to the likes of Mol, yet the fascinating soundscapes Show Me A Dinosaur manage to craft are on par, if not better than, peer outfits. The soulful timbres of the guitars when placed under a pleasantly hazy production are perfect for outlining a day of quiet pensiveness. Thankfully, the eventual product is not too light such that it drifts too far into its own aesthetic, with thunderous percussion teaming up with shadowy tremolos for whenever the collective launches into a more blackened foray. These separate entities flow into each other seamlessly throughout the quaint 44-minute duration, rising and falling in a manner that maintains rather than sacrifices momentum. Polished post-rock adventures, albeit somewhat rough per the intentionally opaque mix, supply equal intrigue to rivaling instances of black metal fierceness. All are connected under an overarching theme that is adhered to wonderfully through captivating songwriting and the ambiance it brings.
The diversity that Show Me A Dinosaur uncover during their new strategy makes for an LP that always has a new climax to spotlight or a thrilling environment to explore, gazing through the bedroom windows and picturing the inaccessible world. A number that leans heavily into post-rock like “Marsh” sets the scene excellently, restrained drumming letting the soothing tones of the guitars breathe in the foreground, the bass droning in the distance. It lets the audience walk into the biome as the notes paint in each tree, all leading up to an eventual explosion of pounding melodies and biting harsh vocals, their contrastingly vicious intonation bleeding into the canvas, adding an air of anguish to the serenity. From then on, the track continues on its leisurely tempo, the tranquil riffs guiding onwards with their commendable might, finally reaching a conclusion among choir-esque clean vocals. On the opposing end of the spectrum, one must face the more aggressive cut that is lead single “Hum.” A faster pace is introduced through a more mobile drumming output, restrained strings keeping pace until evolving into ethereal melodies, the clean vocals calling from behind a thick fog that engulfs the song. A runaway riff takes the reins as the tune launches into a sprint, furious blast beats paving the road ahead while the near-indecipherable screams cry out. Following this display, the tune dissolves into the calm from which it came, progressively decaying into stray thrumming before ceasing their voice. More assertive in its style is the analogous “Unsaid I,” the first half of a split suite, where the opening salvo of tremolo riffing, blast beats, and visceral vocals construct a dismal mood, a guitar solo—almost akin to a classic rock tone—barging in towards the middle of the entry. As if to balance proceedings further, second half “Unsaid II” bids its time, permitting the atmosphere to be the central feature above all else.
It's difficult for a record of this particular category to distinguish itself from the domineering umbrella that Deafhaven have unfurled above the crowd. Influences apparent as they may be, the engrossing nature of Plantgazer
when operating at its highest level is enough to circumvent the majority of complaints. If anything, the towering presence of the nine-minute epic “Red River” causes less inspiring cuts like “Unsaid II” to morph into relative drags, possessing less elements to dissect or an interesting destination to reach. Considerable patience is exercised so that the tune can blossom into an incredible force that remarkably utilizes the ambiance that permeates the effort. The arrangement capabilities of the band shine in all their glory, exhibiting a knack for emotion and a suitable payoff that outclasses what fellow assemblages can accomplish. This energy can be heard in the highlights of the disc, elevating it beyond being just anther number in a catalog predominantly dismissed by a fanbase that has seemingly moved on. Show Me A Dinosaur are able to prove that there is, in fact, still life to dredge from the innards of blackgaze whether or not the train has been derailed; their cohesiveness as a veteran name brand is enough to showcase a potential that continues to expand. Increased attention from the underground that they have emerged from has led to the Russians attaining more eminence than ever witnessed previously. The contents of Plantgazer
mimic the fluctuating moods of the secluded individual, illustrating the lonely box quarantine all have been placed in and the struggle to identify beauty when it has apparently dried up. On this current trajectory, the quartet could easily find themselves heading the blackgaze charge with or without support.