Keeping with the spooky country vibe, we have this new outing by a rebuilt lineup of US Christmas. What’s interesting to me about this and several other albums that have wandered by my attention this year is how expansively the classification “metal” is getting thrown around. This album doesn’t sound all that metal to me, but I keep hearing US Christmas referred to as a metal band, or in the proximity of other metal bands. And they’re not the only instance of this I’ve noticed, just the only one I can think of right this minute. Seemingly, “metal” is a desirable tag to have attached to your band or record these days. Perhaps it’s a spreading conception that “indie” and “alternative” have gotten a bit too optimistic, or too wussy depending on your perspective, for guitar-driven music with a dark edge to it, while simultaneously the metal community, besides just being especially vibrant and creative of late and thus the kind of thing artists would like to be part of, has also begun to embrace heavier-sounding veteran artists such as Swans and Unsane that were previously classified under subheadings of alternative, indie, or punk. Perhaps this phenomenon is, or is becoming, cyclical: recall the late ’80s “Crossover” phenomenon of metal/hardcore hybrids like D.R.I., and the fact that Black Flag made attempts to market itself to metalheads at at least one point — “masters of pure metal” proclaimed an ad taken out by SST in Rip magazine that I saw once as a kid. In any case, from certain angles it’s looking as if metal is the emerging hip thing to be as 2010 draws to a close.

Run Thick In The Night, however, to these ears, is a spaced-out, occultish, psychedelic/space-country-jam-rock record that sounds like a mixture of Hawkwind, Caustic Resin, Codeine, and Sixteen Horsepower (or Wovenhand perhaps). The Obelisk clearly didn’t get this album, whereas Toby Cook at The Quietus definitely did. This makes sense, though, as H. P. Taskmaster is from Jersey, a fact prominently addressed in “Hi From Jersey,” the closing song on his band Maegashira’s album The Stark Arctic, another album from 2010 very much worth looking into. So it’s understandable if a guy from Jersey doesn’t quite relate to the wide expanses of an album that so strongly reflects and evokes the Appalachian country from which US Christmas hails. It’s fitting that the setting I chose for my first listen was the walk-out basement of my parents’ house, in the rural hills of Grant county, Wisconsin, late at night on Thanksgiving.

Trouble was, I ran out of gas about halfway through the album and had to go to sleep. One thing Run Thick In The Night shares with much of 2010’s crop of albums is that it’s long, and perhaps excessively so — 13 songs in 76 minutes this time. (Digress here into rambling meditation on the reasons behind this: in the age of iPods on shuffle, is there an incentive for bands to provide music in terms of quantity for the money?) And this is from a guy who likes long spacey instrumental jams. A handful of tracks aren’t much more than that though, and had some more attention been given to editing I think “Fonta Flora” might be one of a few good candidates for trimming out on those grounds. Fortunately, there are also multiple instances where the jam works seamlessly as part of a song.

Said jams are primarily found in the electric numbers: there are also a number of fine spectral folk songs done acoustic; in fact, those seem to be the two dominant modes of the album. The use of portamento-ing fiddles (violas?) fits in [nice]( with Nate Hall’s slurry-pitched wail the way that synthesizers sine-waving up and down do elsewhere. While it’s been said that the lineup that recorded this album was hastily cobbled together after some band members quit with recording sessions already booked, I think that, even though the second drummer might be superfluous (but doesn’t get in the way either), the strings and saxophone were [nice]( things to get in the bargain.

There seems to be a concept running through this album, with some chord progressions and fragments of lyrics making multiple appearances. The last two songs even seem to be revisions of songs found earlier in the album — “Mirror Glass” an acoustic version of “In The Night,” “The Moon In Flesh and Bone” an electric version of “Fire Is Sleeping.” I had to Google what a suzerain is, as it comes up in both “Suzerian” and “Ephriam In the Stars,” but I still don’t have the foggiest idea what it has to do with running thick or being legion in the night, as in “Suzerain” and “In The Night.” I think I could probably enjoy a few more listens to try to figure it out, though.

Charlie Schiz

Charlie Schiz
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. I've been weird all my life. It's my time to shine.

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