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Dead Meadow - Shivering King and Others

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Artist: Dead Meadow

Album: Shivering King and Others

Label: Matador

Review date: Jun. 18, 2003

Monotonous and Mesmerizing

Good psychedelic music offers up the desired qualities of hallucinatory drugs without the pesky side effects: a lingering disoriented trance with no permanent physical or mental damage. Bad psychedelic music is like staying sober and having to listen to someone on drugs talk. The Washington, D.C. trio Dead Meadow vacillate between the two with Shivering King and Others, turning in a solid, but largely uneventful, psychedelic album.

This is Dead Meadow’s third album since the band’s inception in 1998, not counting last year’s live collection Got Live If You Want It. Their debut on Matador is further evidence that Dead Meadow belong strictly on the rock branch of the psychedelic family tree, largely eschewing airy acoustic odes and trippy sound effects for pure fuzz. The best reference point is slow, overdriven ’70s protometal, especially Black Sabbath, but with a bit of a Zeppelin swagger. Singer-guitarist Jason Simon even does a pretty solid imitation of Ozzy’s pinched nasal whine. The only clue that this was created in the 21st century is the emphasis on low end production, similar to stoner-metal bands like Sleep and the Melvins.

For the first few songs, Shivering Kings and Others is fantastic. The guitars lumber along under the weight of the distortion, oozing out riff after riff, while the rhythm section plods along at the same snail’s pace, struggling not to get caught in the sludge. Simon’s vocals wander aimlessly over everything, coated in enough reverb and delay to turn any actual words he sings into meaningless fragments. About four minutes in, a warbling guitar solo fades in to take control. Not particularly innovative, but just “far out” enough to be enjoyable.

That is, until about 20 minutes into the album, when the songs shift from enjoyably slow to annoyingly stagnant. The first three-quarters of the album has the same cumbersome tempo, the same overbearing distortion, the same hollow vocals. The songwriting here doesn’t really extend past the initial riff, heavily depending on repetition to create an impression.

Matters improve with the last four songs, which switch to a late-’60’s, Eastern-tinged psychedelia. The last song, “Raise the Sails,” is particularly effective, gradually building a claustrophobic atmosphere with waves of acoustic guitar. It’s a shame that Shivering King and Others is sequenced in a way that emphasizes the sonic similarity of the majority of the songs while decreasing the impact of the later numbers.

Bands this anachronistic tend to forget something important about the bands they are emulating – that at the time, what their idols were doing was innovative. This sense of invention gets lost in mindless hero-worship. Dead Meadow seem stuck in their influences, trapped by the signifiers of “psychedelic,” without the ability to add anything new or fresh to the genre. However, if you can ignore the lack of innovation, there is something hypnotic about Shivering King and Others, something nocturnal and, on rare occasions, transcendent. Dead Meadow straddle the thin line between monotonous and mesmerizing.

By Nick Ammerman

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