We all thought the bird was dead, but like a phoenix the bird has risen. Ten years after their second full-length Twilight Ritual, Arkansas based Deadbird – featuring Rwake vocalist Christopher Terry and drummer Jeff Morgan – are alive and kicking and ready to spread their wings and flap doom into your face. Ten years is a long time: in 2008 Indonesian military leader Suharto was still alive, mansplain was added to the dictionary and December saw a coup d’état which deposed the government of Guinea. Crazy times. Nevertheless, despite these monumental changes in society, Deadbird are still here and ready to fizz our brains with a flavorsome mix of doom, sludge and progressive metal. With III: The Forest Within The Tree they do just that.
Like an arthritic zombie, it’s a slow rise from a ten year slumber for Deadbird. “Luciferous Heart” starts lazily, slurring through the motions at an inoffensive mid-pace. Shades of 90’s grunge move slowly through the mix too, a thick and heady sludge. To add flavor, stronger guitar melodies rise to the fore as the song progresses, forming pretty doom patterns, circling above the oncoming deterioration of sound. The song ends with a galloping crescendo of drums and harsh vocal bellows, then cranking slowness. This has become a staple of this modern take on doom and, thought Deadbird do it well, there’s nothing here that hooks me.
Seven minute follow up “Heyday” is similarly middling. Although instantly carrying a greater fizz, there’s something monotone and monochrome which prevents the song from exploding. A greater rusty gruffness to vocals and riffs are appreciated, but the song tails off into soppy solo territory which neither arouses sadness or evokes passion. The same can be said for the shorter “Alexandria,” a punchier stoner-doom number which bubbles and grooves harmlessly, enhanced slightly by the use of acoustic guitars in the background. There are a lot of attempts at a lot of different sub-styles which don’t completely work because they’re not given enough room to breathe.
III is a grower and after the three minute interlude “11.34” individual songs begin to form their own identities and movements. The sullen acoustic build-up of “Brought Low” makes the sudden cascade of dual harsh vocals and cranking riffs a pleasant surprise. The clean vocal escapades of the middle section carry a greater melancholy, spreading a genuinely downcast vibe which is enhanced by acoustic reverberations and the odd electronic interference. “Bone & Ash” is straight-forward sludge, designed to annihilate the melancholic subtlety of “Brought Low”. Throbbing and repetitive riffs circle beneath primal shouts and bellows of the Neurosis variety, but less oppressively grim. Deadbird aren’t going for totally hopeless though: there’s a satisfyingly simple groove in the second half of the song which embellishes the punky thrash vibe that breaks through at the song’s end. The lack of a discernible identity is my main problem with Deadbird. There are a lot of different moods and styles siphoned into 38-minutes of music which seriously affects the flow and consistency of III as a complete record and with three instrumental interludes reaching six minutes overall the album lacks substance.
III‘s shortness is unsatisfying. As soon as it really gets going it ends. Deadbird have modernized in a way which places them in a flock of noisy, popular bands like Khemmis, Pallbearer and modern day Mastodon without the identity (or label support). Whilst not being offensive to the ears (in fact, there’s a lot here – melodically – to soothe the ear) there’s nothing of the gob smacking, epic variety which will have me coming back for more.