If there’s one thing I know about Germans – and I don’t know much about Germans – it’s that they live to traipse around other countries in khaki pants and wide-brimmed hats, surveying the picturesque beauty of lands that haven’t been turned into parking lots by thousands of years of war and human habitation. Take a trip anywhere West of Texas during the off-season and every national park and gas station is sure to house a few of them, sunscreened noses hovering above their road atlas. More conservative Americans than I might be angered to see Fritz invading our deserts and taking pictures of our good birds, but I’m ususally glad to have a few Germans in my campground, since they serve at the very least to displace my countrymen. The Germans I meet in the West are across the board more knowledgeable and appreciative of America’s wilderness than the Americans I usually see there, and much more conscious of the environment. Point is, even though I don’t particularly like Under the Manchineel, I suspect Treedeon and I would get along just fine were we ever to meet.
The Berlin trio practice a caustic form of sludge that draws from the filth of the NOLA scene and the crawling pace of doom, a music more intent on shredding vocal cords than guitar. Their choice of album title couldn’t be more appropriate – what could be a better metaphor for their environmentalist angst than the baneful swamp tree that killed Juan Ponce De Leon? In terms of North American plants, only the parsnip and chain cholla compare in viciousness, a characteristic with which Treedeon heavily identify. “Breathing a Vein” makes a burn victim out of an unlucky Sabbath riff and subjects it to screeching like I haven’t heard since Indian broke up. Yvonne Duckswoth and Arne Heesch’s roars and screams are by far the best part of the Treedeon package.
Their clean vocals are the worst part, and your tolerance for their delivery will determine your tolerance for Under the Manchineel as a whole. Opener “Cheetoh” is rendered nearly unlistenable by Heesch’s pompous rock yells, which, though terrible, provide aesthetic complement to the album’s bare-bones basement production. When Heesch and Ducksworth are spitting blood, as on “Death of Ceres,” the gritty DIY tones sound dangerous – when they’re trying to sing, the whole thing comes off as amateurish. Sixteen minute long closer “Wasicu” shows both sides coin, with Ducksworth delivering a terrifying falsetto screech right before a cheesy sung-spoken verse about ten times in a row.
When the coin comes up tails, Under the Manchineel sounds less like acrimonious sludge and more like poorly-executed stoner doom, or even fuzz rock. A few riffs here and there have enough desert vibe to successfuly cross the machineel/cholla divide, and it’s a bit jarring to move so quickly from wishing I was listening to From all Purity to wishing I was listening to Gravity X. Inconsistency such as this has no redeeming qualitites; it’s simply a chore to get through, and with each simple song built from just a few uninventive riffs, there’s not much going on musiclally to hold one’s attention.
These Germans aren’t all smiles und sunshine, and I can certainly get on board with that. But without a better understanding of what makes their own music work, it’s hard to see Treedeon getting very far. If they’re going to continue writing music that’s this simplistic, they need to pin down their aesthetics with all of the zeal of an obsessive lepidopterist, and their punk rock vibe suggests that’s not going to happen. Protest and self expression are of course essential purposes of music, but the only way to spread protest through music is to make that music worth listening to for those not sympathetic to your stance. If you like your metal vegan and free-range, there are far better choices out there than Treedeon.