Gauging by the comments section on a recent post-metal review that I penned,1 it would seem that a lot of people are over anything post-y. What better way to win new fans and friends than to write up an experimental, instrumental, post-rock collective? Hmm, on reflection, this could be a hard sell. Coming out of Fort Worth, Texas, Driving Slow Motion‘s five members apparently include a geologist, a coffee roaster and a former member of Seeker.2 I would like to say that you can hear these guys’ professional callings coming through in Driving Slow Motion‘s music — the soothing sound of a rock polishing machine, anyone? — but you can’t. The band dropped a self-titled, three-track EP in 2018. At a mere twelve minutes in length, it was enjoyable enough but utterly forgettable. Song titles including “The Great River” and “Anduin,” reveal Driving Slow Motion to be Tolkien fans, something their debut full-length, Arda,3 makes no efforts to disguise.
Arda is one of those records that, on first listen, I enjoyed but largely washed over me to the point that afterwards, I could recall very little about it. It was also one of those records though, that, precisely because of its dreamy, “washing” quality, had moments that really made my ears prick up. Take, for example, the doom-inspired, threatening drone of “Shadow & Flame (The Deep pt.1),” the post-metal riff that drops at the end of first track “Far From Home,” or the almost trip-hop percussion used in parts of “In Exchange for a Memory,” a song that’s also the highlight of the album.
If you read that as qualified praise for Arda, you get a gold star. I like a lot of what Driving Slow Motion do here — in fact, parts of it I really like — but there is also some material on Arda that simply fails to stay with you. I doubt that anyone will recall the first two minutes of “In Exchange for a Memory,” a track I rate highly. They have no hooks but are key to what that song is. Arda has moods moving through it that become more apparent with repeated listens. Importantly, it also avoids the trope of many post-anything albums, where the melodic passages are simply a vessel to build toward a big post-metal crescendo. Obvious parallels can be drawn to contemporaries like God is an Astronaut, with whom Driving Slow Motion share many similarities, but the record that Arda put me in mind of most is A Swarm of the Sun‘s The Woods. Musically, there are differences (putting to one side the sparing use of vocals on The Woods), with Driving Slow Motion nowhere near as bleak as A Swarm of the Sun. Both, however, seem to know where they want to take the listener and absolutely will not be rushed to get there, something Isis also perfected. If you give them your attention, it will be rewarded as the music carries you along, ebbing, flowing and full of false dawns that promise heaviness, which is only sometimes delivered.
The triple guitars of Driving Slow Motion, coupled with accomplished yet restrained performances from bassist Carter Stark and drummer Dustin Weaver, build complex, textured soundscapes throughout. Layering up the sound delicately, at times Driving Slow Motion deliver some pretty — and pretty spectacular — moments, with the all-too-brief “Of the Sea” a prime example. The band makes some bold choices too, choosing a stripped back, percussion-free track, “The Dawn Voyage,” to close the album. Arda also sounds beautiful. It is full and rounded, and you get every note, with all the instruments in balance, none sounding overblown, none smothered, a fuzzy edge creeping into the heavier sections. Although self-produced, credits include mastering by Troy Glessner, who counts Devin Townsend among a dizzying array of clients, perhaps explaining this to a degree.
Very much like Tolkien’s Great River Anduin, Arda is a slow-moving, winding beast, with sudden moments of ferocity. It is also a record that repays multiple listens. After my first listen, I mentally penciled in a 2.0 for this album. Having revisited it multiple times since, new depths have been revealed, nudging its score up markedly. More post, than it is rock, Arda has a gentle beauty to it and, as a self-released, self-produced debut, Driving Slow Motion deserve great credit. While I have little negative to say about Arda – unless you count the slow-burn factor as a negative — it stops short of being a masterpiece, constrained to a degree by being instrumental.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Fail Safe Audio Recordings
Websites: drivingslowmotion.bandcamp.com | drivingslowmotion.com | facebook.com/drivingslowmotion
Releases Worldwide: June 7th, 2019