Across Tundras - _Sage_
(Neurot Recordings, 2011)
by: Dan Lake (8 out of 10)
That Across Tundras have never been trend chasers is understatement of the most brazen sort. Through seven albums in as many years, the Nashville-by-way-of-Denver trio has built an underground following on long sunset gallops through the least populated regions of America's bountiful landscapes and harsh expanses. Under the band's electric touch, ghost towns resurrect their residents for one last saloon romp, and deserted reservation lands echo once again with cries for war and the hunt. There's no scene for this music, no single genre tag nor overzealous hyphenation to draw the metal masses to the whitewater froth that Across Tundras stirs up. Given their track record, I imagine the band thinks that's just fine.

There are lots of reasons the kids won't get with _Sage_, the band's latest parcel of prairie metal. It's not very brutal. There is no evidence of dark, brooding hatred. Oh, it's heavy -- consistently so -- but the heaviness is always melodically rich and full of space. The album is only metal because of its volume and distorted tones; otherwise, Across Tundras' Neurot debut qualifies as a brawny rock record with top-notch songwriting, excellent musicianship, and a grand scope.

With _Sage_, the band has envisioned and achieved a very specific aesthetic that rises in equal measure from the artwork and songcraft. The cover image overlays a dreamcatcher, shadows of tree limbs, an arrangement arrowheads, and what appears to be three buffalo speeding down a cliff to their deaths. The music is similarly celebratory of aboriginal and frontier America. These eight songs live and thrive in the contradictions inherent in a modern metal record about a long-buried past. Across Tundras whip up grandiose campfire tales accompanied by musical thunder undreamt of by the buckskin-clad storyteller. Unhurried rhythms belie the strident urgency of the guitar tones. Tanner Olson's largely tune-free vocal style continually compliments the precision of the instrumental performance. _Sage_ lends a loud rock expression to the struggles and sorrows of an unpredictable life on the boundary between human civilization and unforgiving wilderness. Unless the trend chasers start chasing Across Tundras, we're unlikely to hear another blend of American past and present this raw and raucous for quite a while.


(article published 23/7/2011)

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