If I were to start babbling about an American amalgamation of ancient elephants, roundness without fault and the pitch of Yasin Bay’s voice, I’d know what I was talking about but I’d be the only one. Similarly, when the promo bin tells me something is “math metal,” no particularly useful information has been conveyed. I had no idea what to expect from Irata‘s third album, Tower, because of this very tag. Turns out, a progressive post-rock sign would have steered me toward the right ballpark; had the bin/Muppet communicated in plain English rather than being a fucking weirdo about it, I/you would have known that much sooner that the North Carolinans in question sound something like Mastodon, A Perfect Circle and Deftones having a casual orgy. Such is life, yo. Either way, I’m well aware that leaving such a throbbing mass of red-hot name drops to dangle in your faces is irresponsible, at best, so let’s have an educational discussion about this thing before HR and a clean-up crew has to get involved1.
The opening title track goes straight to work on establishing the sound and energy of Tower, immediately launching into a sludgy Mastodon-y groove that doesn’t let up for the entirety of the song, effectively engulfing the listener and propelling them onward with its sustained trajectory. At its core, “Tower” is basically one long early Mastodon riff on loop, yet every 20 seconds or so one particular element or another is tweaked in a manner that establishes distinguished structural roles; this tactic is employed throughout the album, adopting varying tones and moods from song to song but retaining similar levels of momentum and success. Irata pull this off by essentially adjusting the focus from one instrument to another as the songs progress, not so much moving from passage to passage as making subtle shifts in instrumental weighting. The segments of any given song typically share similar sonic skeletons, yet minute alterations and focus shifts allow Irata to turn one riff into many different things, the end result being tracks that go several places while technically staying in the same spot.
This whole “doing more with less” bidness works largely due to the variation found amongst the songs themselves. “Weightless” presents A Perfect Circular soundscape, whereas the ballad-y “Innocent Murmur” harkens to the softer side of early Coheed and Cambria. Whoever the band may sound like at any given time, bassist and vocalist Jon Case consistently channels a slightly serrated energy somewhere between Mastodon and Mötörhead, double-tracking all the while to recall Jane’s Addiction. This competently innocuous performance pairs quite well with the surrounding instrumentation, particularly where his place in the mix neither steals the show or hides from it. Drummer and sometimes-vocalist Jason Ward likewise contributes effectively and inconspicuously, attacking his kit as aggressively (“Weightless”) or gently (“Innocent Murmur”) as the songs call for, playing his role with understated efficiency for the greater good (the greater good).
The songs on Tower are executed practically and effectively, but neither of those terms are ringing endorsements; there’s a definite level of safeness here, and though many of these tracks appeal to my personal tonal palette, I must also profess that none of them compel me to consider returning to Tower. The shifting instrumental focus tactic may keep the songs alive, but it offers little to anyone who hears the aforementioned inspirational elements of Irata‘s sound and hopes for similarly outside-the-box adventures. Occasional post-rock solos a la “Waking Eye” or “Golden Tongue” instill some much appreciated life into Tower, yet by and large this adventure is pretty unadventurous. By the fifth track or so, being surrounded by all this potential and seeing it not really going anywhere makes further listening a less than thrilling prospect, and when all was said and done the only thing Tower made me feel was A Perfect Def Mastodon blue balls.
As a fan of the general sounds found within Tower, I’m rooting for Album 4. Irata are working with some fun and enjoyable material, and their demonstrated aptitude more than hints at a capacity for greater things. As someone who has heard everything by Irata‘s foremost idols,2 though, I hesitate to dub Tower as anything other than okay, knowing what other exciting directions these sounds have previously been taken to. By all means, give this a listen; may you find your Tower, reader, and breach it. May you climb the top, but hear me, I beg: there are other worlds than these eight tracks, and Tower will likely send you running straight back to them like a man in black fleeing across the desert.
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Small Stone Records | Bandcamp
Websites: iratalive.bandcamp.com | iratalive.com | facebook.com/iratabandofficial
Releases Worldwide: May 24th, 2019