Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mare - Mare (2004)

EP, Hydra Head Records
October 5th, 2004

Genre: Atmospheric Sludge/Doom Metal
Region: Canada

I'm perpetually behind on this years great releases at this point, but I promise I'll get to them soon. The new Ash Borer, Dephosphorus, Bereft, The Howling Wind, Protestant, Morigon, Swans, Evoken, Torch Runner, Panopticon, A Forest of Stars, Old Man Gloom, etc. Not that it matters really with the thousands of other great blogs out there tackling them in a responsible and timely manner — the top of the list obviously being Forever Cursed and The Living Doorway. So get your ass over there and show some love.

However I'm gonna use up a few posts to repost and properly review some of my favorite records (most likely 3) in between catching up on all that so bare with me. I started writing for Cvlt Nation last month (joining my friend Haxan from Forever Cursed) and I recently had the pleasure of writing an article about Mare's reunion shows here in Toronto. I also slipped in a review of their only release which is one of my favorite records of all time, and I wanted to post it here with a link to the record.

I posted this record when I first joined Equivoke but said very little about it — the link is down now and instead of just updating that I wanted to start fresh. So if you want you can head over and check out the full article about the live shows in their entirety, but below is just the review of the record and their performance last week (edited so it will make sense in the context of this blog). I would hope more people know about this than I'm inclined to a assume, but it never hurts to spread the magic and get others into such a great record.

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(Originally published at Cvlt Nation)

This past Thursday and Friday I and many others were blessed enough to be witness to several Toronto reunion shows of the legendary sludge three-piece Mare. I attended two of them, there was nothing that was going to keep me from seeing such a rare and visceral performance, and the supporting local bands Titan, Gates, White Ribs and Godstopper helped make the night even more special.

Mare is a unique creature, only in active existence for barely a year before calling it quits. There are mixed feelings about this with most people who have encountered their music: everyone at least on the surface wanted to see more after hearing the ground-breaking, genre blending, passionate music created on their only EP; how could anyone say otherwise?

It is indisputable that this short record is truly innovative, a supremely intense experience. I've heard it called the biggest musical cliffhanger ever, and if the guys over at Hydra Head Records are telling the truth then there was definitely plans for a full length two years after it's debut. But as an outsider I can imagine that there's always that sliver of nagging fear or doubt (whether it be from fans or the musicians involved) that, after having achieved something as monumental, as powerful, creative, and visceral as the material on that single five track EP, there may only be no where left to go but down from that point. Once you've conceived music that incredible on a debut sometimes (at least to this lowly listener) it seems that it would be difficult to top it or be satisfied with what comes next.

I don't doubt the guys could've done it, it's not an impossibility. Neurosis, Ulcerate, Thou and Amenra have maintained that peak of brilliance over many years as have many others. I'm also not necessarily arguing that it couldn't be improved on (although if pressed I would argue that would be quite an achievement). John Gossard of Weakling disbanded that group due to feeling detached from it but even he has said in interviews that he believed if continued it could've only been better proceeding from "Dead As Dreams".

I don't know what Tyler, Caleb and Scott felt, I don't presume to know anything about the process at this point in my life — and when you create music you love it really shouldn't (and often doesn't) matter whether consumers or fans or labels believe you've achieved something worthy to follow up your last effort. According to the bands myspace page on February of 2007, Tyler stated that Mare was over "due to a lack of motivation to write and record more material for the project." It's unfortunate and slightly frustrating for those of us who were hoping it would last long enough to see a full length.

But in the end it doesn't really matter. What is important is that Mare existed and blessed the industry with what can only be called as a true gem amongst heaps of rust and coal, generously pouring an endless abyss of passion and thoughtfulness into a project that personally effected me greatly, and I'm confident this is the case for anyone who encountered it.

So from the many years of having spun this record and the impression it has left on me, having the opportunity to see Mare twice in two days was truly a dream come true for me. Both nights they played their entire EP with just as much ferocity and passion as is heard on the studio versions of the songs, with a few alterations and some instrumental and ambient fun in between. Tyler on guitar and vocals with Caleb on drums, both original members, while filling in for the bass and doing an phenomenal job at that was Matt; all of them very humble, friendly and light-hearted between songs, as well as before and after the sets. Their performance was deeply pleasurable and euphoric for me.

Tyler's vocals are some of the most intense, jarring and soul-wrenching I've ever heard — this is amplified exponentially in a live setting which I was in awe of. Caleb's percussive skill and performance was precise and ardent, the style from each track changing but always impressive and draws you in. Matt did such a great job on bass, the presence of the thunderous and gritty bass riffs was far more pronounced on stage then in the record and it made it all the more heavy; he was enthusiastic and focused. All three musicians seemed to be connected in an innate fashion while performing.

After the final song, the closer for the album "Sun For Miles", on both nights there was a ritualistic celebration with audience participation where members from Gates and Titan and all who came indulged in. It was something that put a smile on everyone's face and the friendly atmosphere was most clear at those points.

Below is Mare's entire live set from the final show Friday night at the Soybomb HQ, so enjoy a final glimpse into the impressive genre-rending style of Mare in this raw performance.

Over the course of the five tracks on this self-titled EP Mare blends an eclectic mix of atmospheric sludge and doom, jazzy lounge, melodic and ethereal gospel or choir-like textures. As a whole it could be classified as sludge or doom, but realistically it is a collection of sounds that defies easy categorization while being cohesive, focused, tightly written and has undying replay value. Lyrically the album is cryptic and yet in some ways able to be understood on an intrinsic level. To me they're some of the more impressive and haunting lyrics I've ever read, and add so much to the music itself rather than being mere filler. It's a challenging record to say the least, unafraid of exploring unknown territory and bringing it into a fold of powerful doom foundations.

The opening track "Anisette" has a perfect example of this, while also being my favorite track on the record (which for me is a tough choice to make considering everything laid down here is gold) and the most easy to describe genre-wise as atmospheric sludge. Don't let this throw you though, it is not post-metal or post-rock, and while this could be the most "normal" of all the songs here it avoids tropes and crutches by carving a deeply satisfying path between desperate heaviness, alluring beauty and jarring angularity. The opening moments are subtle, quiet and elegant; a sad set of notes and chords that do not prepare you for when the pace quickens. At first clean, Caleb kicks in with drums announcing a shift towards the heavy. This continues for a full minute almost, slow and ominous. And then we hear from Tyler when the pace ramps up slightly.

What grabs me every time — aside from the spellbinding, expertly crafted riffs that melt into satisfying chords, and the intelligent and busy but not flashy drumming — is Tyler's vocal style. It's far beyond anything I've heard anywhere before or since. The opening lines are screamed, screeched with so much consuming devotion it kills me every time, and in every moment he's locked into this style it floors me. Despite this the lyrics are easily decipherable.

The riffs during these first four lines are still melancholic, but sharp and bone crushingly heavy with a slight addition of discordance. The percussion is clear as day and soak into you. Once that fourth line diminishes, a clang and a brief silence before a tremendous riff stomps on you, jarring at first. Suddenly it morphs into a sad chord and Tyler shows off his versatility as a vocalist: beautiful, haunting clean melodies float from him for a single line, escalating and sustained until once again unleashed into that violent screech for the rest of the track. It slows down from this point, continuously heavy and for a moment more dissonant before rolling back into grooves. The final moment soars with a powerful scream as the chords hang there and the cymbals shudder.

This was the third track played live and aside from "Tropics" was the one I was dying to hear the most. It was something like a cathartic experience for me when Tyler started screaming, screeching, when the bass kicked in after the clean opening. It was flawlessly performed, and had everyone attending fixated and moving with the sheer weight of the song. Those first four lines had an added intensity those two nights.

"Saved by last night
When we lived
All I know is last night
We almost lost you for good
Let's hear what she has to say
It's an intricate fold
It's the cure
For us trying to speak
And it works
Look at the overcast people
Then look at their overcast sons"
Mare - Anisette

Suddenly you step into something the complete opposite of the previous track with "They Sent You", the track they opened both nights with. Synths behind Tylers soft, celestial choral procession, drawing out the words and letting them waver. It's soothing and a bit eerie when a sharp horn raises at points. It's truly impressive how versatile he is from one moment to the next.

Just over a minute in the tone switches back to a wicked sludgy groove with a great percussive rhythm underneath, becoming progressively more busy as the track moves along. The way Mare treads the line between so many different tones and textures and genres is nothing short of inspiring, as seen at the halfway mark when things become more ominous, slow and dark. The song drops out for a moment, replaced by a stinging row of notes, only for the heaviness to come back even slower. It only becomes more harsh as this track reaches the end which is punctuated by a quick and quirky clean moment.

Now we move into an even stranger track: "Tropics". I read a review a while back which put it better then I could ever do on my own when describing what this track is, and that is "lounge doom". And it is both creepy and massive at the same time. The drumming is a slow jazzy style, while the bass and guitar slither at first with what one would first assume is a bow on guitar strings. In both live performances of this song, it was clear Tyler was just using an effect on his board to create the sound (whether in studio he used something like a bow I don't know); they slowed it down a notch as well. The effect creates a lumbering, expansive atmosphere in between Tyler's subdued vocals, just as slow and ethereal as the cryptic lyrics flow outward. It's the shortest track and the most entrancing, a low and quiet reverberating atmosphere that slinks along lazily.

The end drifts straight into the next track "Palaces" which begins at first with a set of oddly timed notes with an almost tropic air to them. But it quickly returns to a style heard at the end of "They Sent You". Twisted and agonizing as the vocals take on a tortured rasp, plinking notes and a doomy rhythm stabilizing the entire song. The pace switches three minutes in when the guitars go clean and melodic with some complex percussion, and this continues to ascend, spiraling and meandering before a chaotic and noisy break. Then it plunges back into the same set of riffs in the opening progression but slightly faster. The spurts of dissonance throughout this song add so much to the massive feeling that has been established. Both nights this was performed it was done without alteration and as in the recording bled right into the finale: "Sun  For Miles".

What a finale it is. Almost entirely choral, harmonized singing from Tyler without any instruments to back him up. Heavenly and blissful would be the perfect description, the layered vocals creating a meditative trace in the listener. It's just one final example of how far above the rest of bands that touch on this genre Mare are, and again stressing the versatility of Tyler's vocal abilities. During the live incarnation of this song, the harmonized parts were played through the PA while Tyler did his best to supplement them at key moments, as Caleb and Matt took a much needed break.

At the climax of his utterances, feedback shines through and the last minute is some of the heaviest rhythm on the record — all the while he returns to his agonizing, throat-rending screams to bolster that unearthly dirge. It was this moment in the performance where everyone in the crowd lifted their limbs and swayed with the waves of sound projected from the band. Matt's bass was so thick, while Caleb screamed as he pounded his kit, and Tyler's screams were even more grating and bold then at any point in the set. It was perfect both nights, but even more so on Friday as the added emphasis of it being the last of the reunion shows ratcheted up the intensity to untold heights.

After this, on both nights, was that ritualistic celebration I mentioned earlier. Tambourines and maracas and similar instruments were given out and it was time for some fun farewells after an intense and long set of nights. Caleb played on and Tyler sung wordlessly along with the crowd, and this carried on for about four or five minutes.

When it comes to Mare's record, I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who wants to experience something truly unique and creative, even challenging. It's one of the few records that effected me on a cellular level, changed my perspective on underground music and through that my tastes. I realize I'm 8 years late in saying this at this point, but I feel it is and may forever be one of those lost gems of the underground that does not get appreciated to the level it deserves.

I would say go see them live if you want be blown away but the chances of anyone getting that opportunity are practically zero now. The vinyl version has been long sold out (there are some still floating around on eBay I'm sure) and the CD is still available out there; I know the band had at least 30 copies at each show. It's not available at Hydra Head Records as far as I know, I've seen it on Amazon, even HMV and iTunes, but you should scour your local record store to find a copy as well. It's easily worth the $10 it goes for out there.

Overall I was so happy to be able to attend these two shows and witness a legend perform one last time with friends and great bands. Much like when I've seen Thou in the past, and when I attended the Gilead Media Festival, this was a succession of shows I will never forget.

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  1. new ash borer's a huge disapointment. Night Sky Transform however is amazing, easily the best grind this year.

  2. this was one of the biggest musical let downs of all time--mare breaking up. they bring a punch drunk avant garde sludge that is really hard to find elsewhere. one of my all time fav albums as well. would kill for more Mare.

  3. Is there a link to download their record? I had it a while ago but my computer got wiped and i cant remember where i got it!