The guys in Minsk got their name from the city in Belarus, which "has been burned to the ground on several occassions only to be rebuilt like a phoenix rising from its ashes". Well, how that description affects their musical statements I don't know. However, what I know is that Minsk is a great band from the USA that plays a great blend of sludge and post-doom metal, bringing to mind the earlier albums of Isis and Neurosis. Given four out of the six tracks on this album eclipse 10 minutes, they love to stretch out their compositions and build densely layered sounds with monochromatic guitar drone and multiple sound effects. Though they also have some really doomy moments akin to American doom metallers Grief in that they employ a rather mournful and repetitive tone in their songwriting without losing their hypnotic and often relentlessly heavy underpinning. Add to this a very percussive rhythmic drive which not only proves to be the focal element in the songs, but it also lends the album a very tribal and primal edge. Tim Mead's conga drums might evoke aural images of Brazilian local bands playing awesome tribal rhythms as well as the more refined drum beats and percussions heard on Dead Soul Tribe and Dead Can Dance albums.
Minsk's songs often start slowly and they are crafted in an ominous tone where only strummed acoustic chords and distant whispered vocals are detected before the pounding, heavily-distorted guitars take everything by storm almost in an Isis meets Cult of Luna way. The guitar riffs are also somewhat similar to the stuff Mastodon would play if their songs weren't so defined and composed. Minsk has a more jam band feel to it. The guitars can drone endlessly as traces of electronic soundscapes and atmospheric passages underlie the main instrumentation. Mead's vocals sound like a tortured beast, but his singing is highly restrained as Minsk is more of a band about sounds rather than vocals. Often laced with ambient acoustic parts, the songs are hard to predict as they can walk the very sludge-ridden paths of grinding metal or simply dive into even more terrifying ambient avenues punctuated by dreamy industrial noises and moments of silence. "Narcotics and Dissecting Knives" starts out with calm acoustic notes and immediately transforms into old-school American doom metal, particularly because of its amazing drumming. Suddenly a violent twin guitar harmony introduces itself delivering riffs that are both evil and intense, and so persistent that they wail eternally. The relatively clean and narcotic voice turns into an angry, violent scream as jarring bass and guitar riffs cut through the peaceful track, borrowing elements of electronica, drone and avant-garde along the way. A quick shift of instrumentation results in a sweet melodic guitar interplay interwoven with dense keyboard textures. The song concludes with a rather lengthy silence. I think it is quite interesting how each song so easily connects with its counterpart. Best noticed in the ending of the 14-minute "Holy Flower of the North Star", Mead's indiscernible whispers bleed into the next piece "Three Hours" before taking on an acoustic guitar melody. Speaking of the epic track "Holy Flower of the North Star", it marries classical piano with tribal percussion that is incredibly complex yet also wonderfully easy to enjoy. Creepy sound effects float about the piece as the song slowly develops character and reaches its apex with the arrival of a thick symphonic backdrop, crazy drum workout, and a brutal vocal performance. The last track "Wisp of Tow" is jazzy, mainly because of the addition of excellent saxophone, and filled with dreary wind effects and even some Middle Eastern resonance. While the production isn't as excellent as some of the bands I've mentioned in this review, I think Sanford Parker has done a quite impressive job. Parker actually decided to join Minsk as a bass player after he was enlisted to mix and record this album.
Minsk's Out of a Center Which Is Neither Dead Nor Alive is an album highly recommended to fans of experimental metal that borders on sludgecore and droning guitar walls. I am curious to see what they'll come up with next.
- Waging War on the Forevers
- Narcotics and Dissecting Knives
- Holy Flower of the North Star
- Three Hours
- Bloodletting and Forgetting
- Wisp of Tow