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Supergroups are a tricky thing. Too often they feel like odd amalgamations of the disparate contributions of their constituent members. They feel forced, trying to pigeonhole Band X's sound into Band Y's style. Most of the time, they just fall flat. Perhaps it is the bane of the supergroup: to succumb to the unrealistic expectations.
Comprised of Scott "Wino" Weinrich of Obsessed and Saint Vitus on guitar/vocals, Scott Kelly of Neurosis on guitar/vocals, Al Cisneros of Om and Sleep on bass, and Dale Crover of The Melvins on the skins, those are huge expectations to live up to. So what does Shrinebuilder do to those expectations?
It crushes them.
Shrinebuilder is expansive yet intimate. Crushing yet ethereal. Enraged yet contemplative. This is an album full of contradictions. The elements of each band are clearly present, yet together they create something entirely new. Yes, this is doom metal. It is also post-metal, sludge metal, and psychedelic. Despite all these apparent inconsistencies, this is also one of the most consistent and most impressive releases of the past few years.
Wino and Kelly carry most of the vocal work, trading off perfectly. Wino's higher pitched vocals are complimented by Kelly's raspy growls, fitting the mood of the music. The guitars also change to fit the mood of the music. Thunderous riffs are propelled forward by the hypnotic bass lines of Cisneros, pummeling the listener. Yet true moments of beauty emerge. Fuzz-tone guitars are contrasted by crushing, distorted passages.
The music never dwells too much on one extreme or the other, well balanced throughout. It also never strays into the really heavy realms. Rather, it is content to tip-toe to the edge, then just hang out there, showing you just how terrifying it could be, but never jumping off that edge. This sense of restraint strengthens the record.
Recorded in a brief 3 day period (with some overdubbing and post-production work), the album has the feeling of a brilliant moment in time, a collaboration of great talent that just happened to immediately click. The tracks flow from one to the next in a very organic manner. The record has a cohesive sound that belies that short time during which it was created. Shrinebuilder is a magnificent example of what happens when ego is set aside, and the music reigns.
Final verdict: 4/5
I know, I gushed. Also, this was tied in my top spot on my "Best of 2009" list. Make no mistake, it belongs there as I continue to feel that this was one of the very best albums to emerge from last year. So why the 4? I actually think that the next Shrinebuilder album has the potential to be even better. While this is a fabulous album, and one that any music fan owes it to themselves to check out, I believe even better will come from these four. Nevertheless, this is a monster of a record, and a stunning collaboration.