November 15, 2005

Tarantula "Book of Sand"

I'll be straight up: Book of Sand perfectly defines the word "frustrating." The cover depicts...a Roman Centurion? Song titles make references to "empires" and "conquests" and "the fall," so I should logically deduce that this record has something to say about the Roman Empire, right? WRONG. Rule number one: if you make a "concept" record, at least have a cohesive story line that's somewhat related to the imagery you use. And, if you're going to lead your listeners to think that your record is a concept record, at least explain give the listeners some way of combining all that you're doing--especially if your art requires you to do something as asinine as dressing up in a Centurion uniform.

Frustration number two: Okay, so these guys have put together what may or may not be a concept album. They've not explained any of it--and, on top of it, they're an instrumental band. One of them is dressed in a silly costume How does it sound? Well, "The Century Trilogy I: Conquest" sets the tone, with a pretty, haunting violin creating a cinematic mood, that's then utterly heavy metal. By not very good heavy metal. We're talking about a riff that's quite cliche. We're talking about piss-poor Dave Mustane imitiation. The band's metal skills sounds like a high school kid playing over and over in his garage, so that he can one day prove his ability to ROCK OUT to try and score the school metal chick. The next track, "Who Took Berlin (Part I)," only continues this metal trend, and it's pretty clear that Book of Sand has, in my mind, just been written off as a sloppy, amateurish metal record.

Frustration number three arrives at song number three, "Who Took Berlin (Part II)." Why is it frustrating? Because, unexpectedly, Tarantula AD mutates in to a good band! Even though the horrible guitar riff in "The Century Trilogy" pops up repeatedly, the songs that aren't cursed by that solo have a much better chance of being good. Songs like "Prelude to the Fall" and "The Lost Waltz" are downright beautiful songs; they're cinematic in scope, full of gorgeous arrangements, and those two songs--as well as the two that follow, "Riverpond" and "Palo Borracho"--flow together like a symphonic movement. The movement sounds like an odd mixture of equal parts Explosion In the Sky, Sigur Ros, Godspeed you Black Emperor, The Dirty Three, and Calexico. Album closer "The Century Trilogy III: The Fall," is one of the most beautiful songs I've heard all year; it's an epic number and features Devendra Banhart. (Yeah, I don't care for the man much, but his operatic stylings here are simply beautiful.)

Frustration number four: this record rubs me the wrong way and it also impresses me with its musical brilliance. So is Tarantula AD a band of good classical musicians who've been a little too self-indulgent? Are they merely OK metal musicians who have a prediliction for classical music? It's hard to say, because Book of Sand could go either way. The only thing that's consistent about this record is its vexing nature. Perhaps they'd be better off to lose the bad solo and the Centurion costume.

--Joseph Kyle

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