Last time we had heard of Minsk was in the musically-distant past decade when post-metal was still an exciting reality, and Isis had just released their final masterpiece. Minsk’s offering that year, “With Echoes In The Movement Of Stone” (2009) was a solid mixture of atmospheric sludge and doom metal loyal to that movement that characterized the second half of the early metal 2000’s.
Six years fast into the present, the Chicago quintet returns with “The Crash and the Draw”, a record that showcases those same characteristics with reinvigorated energy and inspirations. A perfect bridge from the band’s older catalogue to their current form, The Crash and The Draw borrows some of the characteristic elements of Minsk’s sound onto which adds some intriguing new elements as well. Above all a more prominent use of tribalism and instrumental tracks which give the record an immense atmospheric power, and much more elegant and smooth flow.
Back from their long sleep, Minsk blossom at the end of their sixth winter in time for a fourth harvest. Minsk return in full force with renewed focus and intensity, creating a record that sounds both fresh and familiar and that proves the band is one of the most interesting elements within the saturated post-metal atmosphere. The Crash and the Draw not only is convincing, but it is Minsk’s most elaborate and complete album to date. Throughout the eleven songs on the record the Chicago quintet present their own brand of sludge metal filled with atmospheric, ambient, instrumental intermezzos, and tribal and psychedelic passages.
RELEASE DATE: 07 April 2014 LABEL: Relapse Records
Opener “To The Initiate” does its job perfectly. As it opens the record, this song prepares the listener to all the grandeur that is to follow. With its 12-minute lifespan, this track is heavy, atmospheric, and intricate; in one word, it’s massive. The track welcomes new listeners while it reassures long-term fans that Minsk is as good as always, if not better. A soft, distended melody quickly gives space to an immense sludge guitar riff, one of Minsk’s trademarks, that effortlessly hammers itself down the listener’s brain, until is silenced by Timothy Mead’s beautiful clean singing. What follows is a robust sludge song with airy ambient interludes, completed with subtle melodies and excellent guitar work (both electric and classic). As to highlight the dual nature of Minsk’s music, the song (as of the rest of the album) presents a well-proportioned alternation of clean and screamed vocals.
The Crash and the Draw builds its emotional impact on the alternation of atmosphere and sludgy heaviness and the splendid alchemy between the many singing styles showcased by the quintet. The record follows a linear progression and develops into two smaller halves. There’s no harsh division as the album flows naturally, but the impression is (given the songs’ names as well) that the album was meant as the unification of two halves, one more grimy and suffocating, the other calmer and more spacious, but both black as coal. The Crash and the Draw is the soundtrack to a journey through space and time, through the two sides of our personality that determine who we really are.
There really isn’t anything wrong with this record. Every single aspect is perfectly placed and they all work together in unison. The atmosphere and the “heavy” are neither blended nor in contrast, but complimentary to one another. The Crash and The Draw is all about building atmospheric crescendos and transporting the listener along on this musical journey. Minsk reach their destination with the class of well navigated musicians, with calm and composure, and a pinch of slyness too. The band is in fact, extremely controlled on both ends. They know when its time to press on the accelerator and get heavy and when to release the clutch, slow down and get atmospheric. The atmospheric passages are never forced, and accompany, rather than obstruct the heavier “riffaging”. Likewise, the heavier parts never take full control over the record, relegating the more atmospheric moments to a background role. The few more cathartic or agitated moments are occasional and extremely controlled. Never prevailing over its respective counterpart, atmosphere and heaviness coexist on this record and together produce the fantastic grandiose final result.
Even purely instrumental tracks “Conjunction” and “To You There’s No End” are not misplaced but perfectly placed to accompany the listener hand to hand through this stormy, challenging musical journey. As the title suggests, the former is the bridge that links the more intense and agitated part of the record to its more introspective and atmospheric half. A breath of fresh air, this intermezzo offers a brief moment of relaxation before we dive head first into the record’s final half. The latter is a short “hype-builder” of an interlude, with drums and cymbals echoing in a tribal rhythm that finally explodes into the following track, To the Garish Remembrance of Failure (one of the heaviest of the record). The interlude also displays just how skilled and comfortable with a vast variety of sounds the musicians behind Minsk really are.
Closing an album is never easy, but Minsk do it with class and elegance on “When the Walls Fell”. Partly re-invoking the same structure and mood of the album’s opening page, the closing chapter presents sludgy heavy riffs with an alternation of screamed and clean vocals. Clean and screamed singing are just so beautifully paired that them alone would be a worthy end to a majestic record. The music however is not just an outline to the vocals, but the solid soundscape on which these tales are narrated. The bridge in the song is one of the most emotionally charged crescendos on the record that slowly brings the song and the album to a slow yet explosive end. Atmosphere explodes in chaos then once ceased, it leaves space to silence and only silence.
Six years of silence then a return to form, as unexpected as it is welcome. Minsk emerge from their long hiatus with an album that sounds innovative yet confident, new yet familiar and enthralling yet surprisingly easy to listen to. The Crash and the Draw re-establishes the band’s well-crafted sound while it’s not afraid to explore new territories. And combining these elements Minsk have created their best album to date and and a solid competitor for best album of the year. A bridge from the past to the future, the present for Minsk is bright. Well, as bright as stoner doom gets. Enjoy.