Arctic Sleep have come along way since 2006s Mare Vaporum. That album sported the epic opener “Over The Anitfreeze Rainbow”, a sprawling, nearly 20 minute exhibition of gurgling distortion and slow-chug that owed a debt to Earth and Sleep equally. Unlike Sleep’s barking Al Cisneros, Keith D keeps his vocals tamer and sleepier. The calm amongst the fields of chugging doom. Passage Of Gaia sees Arctic Sleep’s sound in optimal form. It’s bigger, tighter, and these days more prog than doom.
“The Staircase” comes right out of the speakers with Dream Theater-like precision and a Baroness-like sound overhaul. The drums have a technical syncopation as Mike Gussis’ guitars go from crushing riffs to fluidly picked lines that give the song some great variation. Emily Jancetic’s backing vocals add some light on the proceedings. “Terra Vindicta” almost comes across as a progressive doom version of King’s X at times. Those guitars have echoes of Ty Tabor, at least to these ears. “Green Dragon” is an epic slow-burner which permeates with both a psychedelic journey taken and a sense of loss and sadness. “Antipode” has a more straight ahead metal sound. As with a few of the shorter tracks on Passage Of Gaia, this song sounds more like Deftones in progressive mode than a doom metal band. That’s not a bad thing, btw. The epic “Passage Of Gaia” is nearly 10 minutes of jagged metal and calm beauty. It nearly jumps the tracks into post-rock territory as the song ebbs and flows with Explosions in The Sky vastness and Mogwai brutal volume.
As with some of their prog doom brethren like Mastodon and Baroness, Arctic Sleep have tightened and honed their sound from their sludge-y and more visceral beginnings. The sound is cleaner, clearer, and more approachable. Passage Of Gaia is an album of well-produced, well-written proggy metal that shouldn’t offend anyone. I can’t help but wonder though how an album like Passage Of Gaia would’ve sounded had those earlier, more experimental noise excursions had been included in the process. Abysmal Lullabies’ “Pacific Eclipse” is a perfect example of both solid songwriting and keeping things interesting, all-encompassing, and on the fringes. There’s nothing wrong with a band evolving their sound, but you don’t have to abandon your rougher, darker beginnings to do so.
Still, another solid effort from Keith D and Mike Gussis.
6.8 out of 10