Long Distance Calling is the best instrumental metal band you’ve never heard of. Formed in 2006, this German quartet first came to my attention when I discovered 2007 debut Satellite Bay last year, an album that went perfectly with my lonely drives along the sparkling New England coastline. In the following years they delivered two more records of heavy, expansive post-rock before adding vocalist Martin Fischer to their ranks for 2013’s The Flood Inside and 2016’s Trips. Sixth full-length Boundless represents something of a back-to-basics approach: Fischer is now out, the group is once again an instrumental four-piece, and the poppier inclinations of Trips have largely been abandoned. What remains is a rocking, focused, and lively album that’s sure to excite those who often find themselves wondering “What are Pelican up to these days, anyway?”
Before I begin, I must point out that Calling have one of the oddest promo blurbs I’ve ever read, with what’s essentially a lengthy first person narrative from a journalist who joined the band for part of Boundless’s writing process. There’s plenty of flowery descriptions of the music and the mountain studio in which it was recorded, but most interesting to me was how Calling wrote the album (and indeed, write all their albums): with all four members in a room together. “So the core doesn’t get lost,” they claim, but more important is the effect it has on their songwriting.
See, on the surface Boundless isn’t too different from a heavier and peppier God Is An Astronaut or a rockier Pelican. Loud modern rock guitars crash together or burst into crescendos between extended interludes of glassy clean picking, muted intervals thrum beneath snappy drumbeats, and the occasional piano or string embellishment adds an interesting twist to things. The difference is the way these songs develop and build tension. Rather than coming up with a good idea and repeating it ad nauseam, Calling establish an idea and grow off it, letting it breathe and live, morph and become heavier as the songs call for it.
Take opener “Out There,” which follows the driving post-metal of its first half with an extended build that nurtures a cleanly picked phrase from its gentle opening into a sky-cracking finale. Follow-up “Ascending” shows the band can do this even in full metal mode, recalling an instrumental Fates Warning as they move from galloping riffs to some of the most powerful melodies on the album. Likewise late highlight “On the Verge” sounds like a livelier Mogwai as it grows progressively heavier from its piano-led opening minutes, while prog metal vista “The Far Side” moves from a repeated motif into hefty chords that remind me of Cloudkicker’s brighter days.
Through it all the bass is thick and driving, and the second guitar adds wonderful ambience with plenty of delay pedal effects and freefalling leads. The production also grants the music an excellent sense of space, with a nice pop to the drums and a clear modern distortion to the guitars. Sadly it’s a tad loud, but that’s not my biggest complaint. For how good this album is at introducing novel ideas at just the right moments, on the whole Boundless just feels too safe and sterile. Sure, moments like the Red Fang riff that pops up in “Weightless” may raise eyebrows, but you know nothing is ever going to get too kooky, and the clean production also saps a bit of the music’s mystique. Likewise, while each of these eight tracks conjures a decent atmosphere and is enjoyable front-to-back, the music lacks the same vastness and emotional impact of Pelican’s better albums or even Calling’s earlier work.
That said, don’t discount Boundless quite yet. This is still one of the best instrumental albums I’ve heard since Tempel’s last record,1 particularly in how consistently entertaining and musically active it is. Even across a 49-minute runtime, there’s never a shortage of tempo shifts or cool ideas, and while a few memorable melodies or coloring outside the lines more may have helped, it’s hard to discount how strong these krauts are at creating an engaging composition. Fans of the above bands or those looking for a quicker If These Trees Could Talk are sure to enjoy, but even for everyone else, this is one long distance call that’s worth picking up for.