RED\\SHIFT – Grow.Decay.Transform. Review

After an epically-English exchange with Huck N’ Roll about who was going to take this promo – he politely inquired whether I was planning to nab it; I indicated that I was minded to but, if he was interested, then it was all his; he, in the politest of terms, insisted that I take it … well, you can guess where we ultimately came out because here I am. Why was either of us interested? Well, for my part – and I am going to presume to speak for Huck too – it was the statement in the promo blurb that a “catastrophically drunk dive-bar patron” once described Minnesotan trio RED\\SHIFT as being like “Mastodon mugging King Crimson in a back alley on New Year’s Eve.” There was also mention of wolves with swords for arms. The lethally-armed wolves appear to be MIA but can Grow.Decay.Transform. deliver on the promises of a catastrophically drunk dive-bar patron?

Supplied to me along with RED\\SHIFT’s debut was something that I initially dismissed out of hand as a marketing gimmick: an ‘owner’s manual.’ As I sat down to write this review after numerous spins of the record, however, I returned to my manual on whim, only to discover it is actually a surprisingly accurate listening guide. As that guide implies, this is a record that progresses through a number of phases and moods over the course of its, admittedly lengthy, 76 minutes. These include sludge, funk, heavier prog, psychedelia, metalcore and more. I will admit that, on my first few listens, the heavier front third of the album fell flat for me, as the sludgier Blood Mountain-era Mastodon vibes were not at all what I was expecting from Grow.Decay.Transform.

What I was expecting, is what RED\\SHIFT deliver on the rest of the record: a swirling array of styles drawing from as varied influences as Between the Buried and Me (“Bees”), Metallic Taste of Blood (“Forest of Eternal Winter”), Intronaut (“Common Ancestor”), Opeth-meets-Dillinger (“Copelandia”) and, at times, Maiden and Crimson. And although I like this ride a lot, on repeated spins, I actually began to see that the more cohesive front end of the record is a necessary lead in, that sets the listener up for dizzyingly varied trip that follows, as you move into the Dry and Vacuum phases (see the manual). This is one of those records that, even if your attention should wander for a moment, it will be wrenched back by an abrupt change in tempo, style or vocalist – all three members of RED\\SHIFT take on mic duties, serving up everything from deep, lung-sapping growls through to delicate cleans.

Not all the vocals land with equal effect, with the cleans about two thirds into the otherwise-crushing “Mandrill,” for example, coming up short and flat. But these blips are relatively rare, with the almost Åkerfeldt-ian cleans on next cut (“Planet Requiem”) getting the show back on an even keel. It’s worth saying again that RED\\SHIFT is a trio. This fact alone makes Grow.Decay.Transform. pretty damned impressive. There is so much going on here and, in the heavier parts of the album like opener “Deep Sea Gigantism” and “Ocean’s Call,” guitarist Joe McCumber does the work of two people. It’s a long album though. Clocking in at an hour and quarter there is undoubtedly some bloat here. I would not go so far as to say filler but the record could stand to take a 20-minute haircut and would be better for it. Prime candidates for trimming – but not outright culling – would be closing duo “Hypersleep” and “Photon Wave Collapse,” as well as “Forest of Eternal Winter,” while “Common Ancestor” would not be missed at all.

A nice-sounding record, pairing a fuzzy edge to the guitars with a nice clean drum sound, and vocals where they should be in the mix, I swithered (yes, it’s a word!) on how to score this. Had I been put on the spot after 2 listens, we’d be talking a 2.5. After half a dozen listens, RED\\SHIFT had snuck up to hallowed Holdeneye territory and were looking down the barrel of a 4.0. On even more listens, it slid back down just a touch. As much as I enjoyed nearly everything that happens on Grow.Decay.Transform. (and a lot happens), it is too long and, ultimately, tries to bite off a little too much. Mastodon mugging King Crimson in a back alley? Well, I see this more as Mastodon sucker punching poor old Crimson, before all Mastodon’s pals pile in on the stunned old guy. I love RED\\SHIFT’s willingness to take risks and experiment with influences, and if this is coupled with a little more editing on their next outing, it’ll be something really special.

Rating: 3.5/5.01
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 274 kbps mp3
Label: Self-released
Websites: |
Release Date: February 28th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. See Contrite Metal Guy for a score revision.
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