Red Sparowes

If apocalypse rock became a movement after Godspeed You Black Emperor!, L.A.'s Red Sparowes are definitely the next generation, surfing on boatloads of atmospheric dread and bombastic, foreboding riffs on their debut record, At the Soundless Dawn. But when these guys talk about apocalypse rock, they really mean it. "The way we write lends itself to a story," explains Josh Graham, Sparowes guitarist and acclaimed visual and art director for experimental metal legends Neurosis. "It's all in relation to the theory of the sixth extinction event going on right now. It's a scientific theory that the world is being led to another mass extinction event by humanity."

This theory, emphasized on Dawn by song titles like "Our Happiest Days Slowly Began to Turn Into Dust," implies that Red Sparowes are purely interested in darkness, and with members from Neurosis and Isis, two magical names among intellectual metalheads, one might expect something on the heavier side of an iron barge. That's why it's downright exhilarating the first time that pedal steel snakes into the mix, bringing an ornate and pastoral facet that is exclusively the domain of the Red Sparowes. "We really like that element of it," Graham says. "It helps change the moods of the songs to tell the story on a musical level."

After the first few chugging moments of opener "Alone and Unaware...," the pedal steel cries out with mangled emotion, setting the tempo for the involved odyssey to follow. The ensuing "Buildings Began to Stretch..." is the album's most immediate and definitive strike. Plowing through a menacing wall-of-sound riff-cloud is Greg Burns' acrobatically catchy bassline. The ensuing lull brings strains of reverberated melody to the front before a jarring reunion with the main theme.

One can't help but feel that the mind's eye of Graham, responsible for the cornucopia of abstract visuals that is Neurosis' epic A Sun That Never Sets DVD, is a unifying factor in the Sparowes' music as much as the textural prowess of Isis multi-instrumentalist Bryant Clifford Meyer or the versatility of Halifax Pier's Greg Burns on bass and pedal steel. But this is more than a side project: Red Sparowes have committed to touring more often than either Isis or Neurosis. A portion of the next record has already been written and tested on the road. "It's more cohesive and represents more what we want to be doing," Graham explains. "I think there might even be some more contrasts. Stuff even prettier and stuff even heavier."

Indeed, if the world is going to end soon, that's all the more reason to see the Sparowes explode before the apocalypse.

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Michael Chamy