Everything that’s muddy-minded about Safe Places – the new LP from Italian mathcore trio The Glad Husbands, out four days ago on CD and digital via Vollmer Industries – is encapsulated in the record’s sixth song, “Midas.” The song runs about five and a half minutes, and there’s a bridge seemingly for every time the band’s two guitarists exhale or come up with a new twist to the narrative. At one turn, they worship at the mantle of Husker Du, lining their gravely assaults (the whole LP is downright GRUNGY) with an undercurrent of melody. Then, it’s on to pure, 200-proof post-metal, with lots of thrashy, palm-muted riffage. In the next moment, they crib from the notes of a hot-under-the-collar post-rock outfit like A Minor Forest, offering interlaced guitar threnodies that hint at a deeper passage of time. But, sadly, it just doesn’t hang together. The record, which is passionately played, for sure, is occasionally mesmerizing and clearly has the technique and chops to stick the landing. It’s just feels like you wander through the LP in a drunkenly effected stupor, only half-grasping at the fluidity and transience of your surroundings.
This is not to say the record doesn’t have some kick-ass songs. The album-opener, “Out of the Storm,” illustrates what a prog-metal band like Tool would song like sans bass player and with a few steps down in the production-gloss department. (Yowza yowza!) It’s an invigorating initiation that rewards you for following its meandering path toward a conclusion. And the propulsive “Spare Parts,” with its blasts of syncopated guitar and roiling drums, sounds like Bastro filtered through early Locust. That’s not written down without a huge shout-out of respect. These guys know how to keep listeners on their toes.
But, elsewhere, the husbandry stumbles. “Cowards In A Row” pulls out the stops in the angularity department, offering all sorts of breakneck pivots in guitar distortions, but its 4:23 running time feels twice as long as it is. It should be half the length, cropped high and tight to be a mean sonofabitch. The closing “Like Animals” has some interesting little crescendos but can otherwise feel clunky, as if the band were playing in slightly different time signatures. Mis-steps, both.
Safe Places is an interesting record, I’ll give it that. And taking in the record in bite-size portions, say a one- or two-song clip, yields greater rewards than ingesting the whole thing. The band shows tremendous potential; I hope that goes without saying for a group being this ambitious. They just work too hard at cramming 10 lbs of potatoes into a five-lb sack. It’s this overthinking, this hyper-prog-ishness, that unfortunately lends the LP this coda: these guys are onto something but they’re onto way too much of it.