5IVE – Hesperus (2008)

5ive - Hesperus NOTE: This 5ive totally separate and distinct from the UK boy band of the same name.

I had honestly thought I’d seen the last of 5ive with The Hemophiliac Dream; that EP came out six years ago, and with Pelican (the band who stepped up to fill the void for me) getting tamer and tamer with each release, to say that I was anticipating this new full length would be understatement. I suppose it’s fitting, then, that to say I am disappointed with what the band have presented on Hesperus is also an understatement.

Much of this is due to the fact that the album sounds a lot like some of the newer material by Pelican (material that by and large left me underwhelmed). Both bands, it seems, have taken a similar career path. 5ive’s (and Pelican’s) early approach to music was more philosophical; they were less concerned with what they could do musically and more concerned with what they could do sonically. 5ive’s self-titled album and The Telestic Disfracture are freak, minimalist anomalies from hell. The songs on both albums are very simple, but are so huge at the same time that they’re impossible to ignore. Their simplicity is trance-inducing and sublime. But it seems both bands are now content to try and force that audacious rawness into discernible songs, with discernible melodies. And it doesn’t really work.

Early 5ive could rival Sunn O))) in terms of sheer magnitude, and the opening of Gulls sounds a lot like Sunn O))). It’s heavy, it’s brooding, but then suddenly, the song switches gears into something different entirely. The tempo-less miasma is destroyed by the snare drum. And the guitars immediately come in, and they sound much smaller. More than that though, they sound human. They’re something comprehendible now, and it’s not impressive.

Unfortunately, this guitar sound is favored by 5ive for most of Hesperus. After Gulls concludes, Big Sea begins, and the guitar sound is even smaller. It’s exposed, and totally lacking in menace; tone-wise, it’s similar to (but not exactly) like what Pelican used in Aurora Borealis. The whole opening sounds like a long-lost Tool outtake, and the actual song itself wavers between moments similar to the band’s old style and the band’s new style. Again, it doesn’t really work. The old moments are botched by overly-busy drumwork, and the newer moments fail to transition smoothly or sustain themselves with anything interesting. The quieter sections of Big Sea are especially unpleasant, as they glaringly expose the band’s shortcomings as songwriters.

Ironically, it’s the shortest song on Hesperus that winds up being one of the most memorable. Heel is barely two minutes long, but it works at that length, due in large part to some Tom Morello-esque guitar manipulation. From Heel on out, every song gets longer, but most of them fail in some way or another to make an impact. Polar 78 begins at a muted decibel level (for 5ive, anyways), slowly builds, but never reaches the colossal heights of older songs like The Baron or Cerrado. Again, the band are working with melody and nuance here, and if Hesperus has taught me anything, it’s that neither of those things are a strong point of the band’s. Next up is News I which spends six minutes slogging through a sea of half-realized guitar riffs before finally reaching a moment of genuine power. The last two minutes of News I sound like the 5ive of old, but in the end, you’ve got to wonder if it’s worth six minutes of mediocrity to experience two of glory.

News II is the only track on the album that feels like a 5ive song. It lulls your brain into that elusive space that’s typically inhabited only by daydreamers or meditating monks. The energy level is primal and ferocious. Everything in the song is necessary, and it concludes on such a pitch-perfect note that it belies the quality of everything that’s come before it.

5ive’s earlier material worked because it was murky and obtuse. Even when the band weren’t sonically at full capacity, their music was still ominous and threatening, and liable to explode at any second. Hesperus doesn’t do much exploding. And when it does, all it accomplishes is instilling a sense of dissatisfaction in the listener for not exploding more.



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