Sometimes, when a bit of space frees itself up unexpectedly in the review schedule, it’s a fun little game to dip into the promo sump pretty much blind and see what you win. Or, more often, lose. This is how Pinewalker’s Migration came to me, a random pick based on no more than the fact the date worked, I quite liked the name and none of the other listless hacks who write here had yet snaffled it. Five years in the making, the Salt Lake City five-piece describe the recording of their self-released debut as a “form of catharsis for all of us … [following] painful realities and losing loved ones to cancer, we poured [out] every ounce of hurt, sorrow, mourning, remembrance, joy, and clarity…”
And make no mistake, you can feel that emotion in the many moods of this record. While Pinewalker have dropped anchor firmly in doom sludge territory, Migration lurches from moments that border on upbeat groove, through crushing fury to heartrending sorrow across its 43-minute runtime. I say “lurches” because each of its seven tracks takes a different tack and so, as one song finishes, there is an abrupt shift of tone. I don’t want my choice of language to suggest, however, that Migration sounds disjointed. On the contrary, it is a refreshingly varied record but one that retains an identity throughout. Opening track “Sentinel” immediately brought to mind the epic doomy sludge sound of Ahab’s The Boats of the Glen Carrig and manages to both set the scene for the record to come, while at the same time actually sounding like little else on Migration.
From thereon out, Pinewalker draw on influences including heavy stoner blues (“Bone Collector”), something that borders on, but is not quite, melodeath (“Burning Earth”) and post-doom (the nine-minute epic “Maelstrom”). Migration also boasts a beautiful and mournful instrumental, with a lead riff that weirdly reminded me—but not Mrs. Carcharodon—of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Californication” (“Space Witch”). If that makes it sound like Migration is a bit all over the place, that’s because it is and yet, somehow, it really worked for me. With all three guitarists tackling vocals, there’s variety aplenty with delivery ranging from something approximating early Mastodon bellows, through Dozer-esque clean vocals to an almost black metal rasp on “Self vs. Self,” which sees the numerous differing styles overlaid to good effect. Alongside opener “Sentinel,” album closer “The Thaw” is probably the most overtly doom metal song on Migration, with the triple guitars building up walls of heaviness offset with a sense of melody. These two pieces work well to bookend both the album and the variety of styles on show from Pinewalker.
While Migration gives the impression of having had the kitchen sink thrown at it and the sink having landed, remarkably, in one piece, a few hairline cracks do appear on repeated listens. “Burning Earth” is not up to the standard of the rest of the album and not all of Pinewalker’s vocals work, most notably the throaty not-quite-cleans at the back end of “The Thaw,” which are poor. Perhaps I’m quibbling there, picking out one section of vocals on one track but, coming right as the album builds towards an almost Maiden-esque closing guitar gallop, it’s a sour note. My second, and more major gripe, however, is the drum sound, which is not good. These sound clipped and compressed throughout, with the cymbals a particular low—or should I say tinny high—and this is a real shame because drummer Nate Perkins is doing good work behind the kit. If you can forgive that, the production is otherwise solid and I enjoyed the mournful edge to the guitar tone throughout. All three guitarists handle their instruments well but Sam Roe on lead is deserving of particular praise for the moods evoked on instrumental “Space Witch,” which really stuck with me.
Overall, Migration is a strong debut. While the doomy sludge around which this quintet base their efforts is not, in and of itself, particularly groundbreaking or unique, Pinewalker’s varied styles and other influences give the record a fresh feel. Having the three guitars allows them to layer up the sound and create both crushing walls of heaviness but also delicate melodies, when required. You can also hear the emotion that Pinewalker poured into Migration. Although raw and with a few sticking points to be ironed out, Migration impressed me and I don’t expect Pinewalker will remain unsigned for long.