Sometimes I wonder if my ongoing attraction to, and fascination with, all the extraneous crap that orbits behind the scenes impacts my appreciation of a band's music more than it should were I to give something a shot with little to no knowledge of any offstage machinations. I mean, I try to not let things impact my listening habits and choices positively or, especially, negatively, but I’m human and put my pants on one leg at a time just like you.
This long-winded introduction is my way of explaining that four or so years ago, I was alerted to Turbid North via their second album, Orogeny and was admittedly and immediately drawn to the story of the enterprising death/thrashers moving from the town of North Pole, Alaska (seriously, it’s a real place!) to Fort Worth, Texas in order to give their band a more viable shot at sustained activity. And also to probably get as far away as possible from the snow, bone chilling temperatures and actual North-fucking-Pole while still remaining within the confines of these United States.
Personally, I can think of many, many, many places other than Fort Worth that are more conducive to being a working metal band. Seriously, Austin is only three or four hours down the road; San Antonio an hour past that and Houston is only a few hours east of there. But maybe one of ‘em had a rich aunt or lonely internet girlfriend in town with enough couch space and tolerance for lumberjacking longhairs. Anyhoo, in all honesty, I kind of lost track of the band after Orogeny, but here they are with their third album, pared down to a trio and only one member remaining from the original crew that flew the Alaskan coop.
Eyes Alive sups heavily from the sound of dynamic, progressive bands with roots in the world of southern sludge (think Baroness, Mastodon, Kylesa), Sabbath-ian stoner and even bits and bobs of old school death metal kicking around to keep things interesting. There’s a wealth of daring forward musical thrusts on the title track opener, which makes its move from an initial plastering of layered, modern-tech/death movements into a doomy slow-down, then thrashy bridge, and back around (a well-executed and placed solo doesn’t hurt). “The Pyramid Drones” revels in shiny death/thrash excellence and an exchange with lumbering stoner/sludge/doom/whathaveyou. “Destroyer of Worlds” utilizes a similar tack and manages the same impact, but does it with more velocity and power. However, it’s when the band starts exploring psychedelic realms and mellow moods that our succinct summary of this record moves from ‘dynamic take on thrash-prog-sludge’ to something along the lines of ‘great riffs, arrangements need some work.’
This may seem like a quippy generalization, but it’s a scourge that plagues much of the rest of Eyes Alive. The idea to layer a morose and bluesy, slide-supported(?) melody over a driving riff in the vein of someone from the South playing side three of …And Justice for All in “Red Giant” makes for killer bedfellows. Until, that is, the layers get peeled back and the song devolves into a meandering jam connected to the confused sounding “The Burning Sky” and the apocalyptic strut of “Black Sun Rising” in which guitars come and go without rhyme or reason and unnecessary tempo changes further contribute to the bewilderment. These confounding moves between riffs and tempos continue throughout the album’s second half, unfortunately drawing attention away from the solid sections of the nine-plus minute “Bring Home the Motherlode” and its companion piece “The Great Dying.”
After numerous spins, the album’s flow appears to be designed in support of a conceptual storyline. The trouble being that the result doesn’t flow as well for the listener as it probably does for its creators. This is something that often haunts bands that don’t employ an engineer or producer, an additional set of ears, or even some sort of A&R staffer to help with second opinions, economy and fat trimming. Thusly, it was no surprise to discover Eyes Alive is an entirely DIY effort, from the recording, mixing and mastering done by guitarist/vocalist Nick Forkel at his own studio, to its release on the band’s Thy Pyramid imprint. But hey, the nature of experimentation is that you don’t actually know what’s going to turn up in the end. Eyes Alive is a good record at its heart, just a little misguided in spots.