Named presumably for the mythological river that erases the memories of soon-to-be-reincarnated souls rather than the actual river in Alaska, Seattle instrumental trio Lethe make their debut on Reptile Records with Mnemosyne, a full-length titled after the goddess of memory who, by sleeping with Zeus, created the nine muses (Wikipedia is fun). So while there aren’t any lyrics to be had on the album, Lethe are nonetheless clearly working with a theme in mind. It’s the little touches.
With bassist Dylan Desmond having recently made waves with doomed behemoths Samothrace, you could call Lethe a side-project, but the band has a feel uniquely its own, mashing post-Neurosis riffs with pastoral stoner grooves (occasionally touching earlier Pelican territory, but careful not to let its feet stamp too hard thereupon) and offering sporadic twists almost on a one-per-track basis. Mnemosyne is made of five cuts, the shortest just over six minutes and the longest well over 12, but the splitting up is almost arbitrary because the band offers contrasting heavy and subtly rumbling movements throughout. Centerpiece and lengthiest of the bunch, the title track feels almost like it could be three separate songs, like the live-sounding drums of Adrian Guerra (Sod Hauler, Victory Garden) are the what’s keeping the whole thing from floating downstream and losing itself entirely. Not by any means a bad thing, since although they’re more than willing to meander, Lethe are equally capable of reining themselves back from even the most sudden cusp of self-indulgent oblivion.
The countrified turn in opener “Mother Milk Eyes” is a warning to settle your expectations for predictability. Though there are moments where you feel like you know what’s coming next and you’re absolutely right (except for the volume dip the record takes on track four, “Open Harvest” — certainly didn’t see that coming, though it might have just been my rip of the album), Mnemosyne has experimental flourishes that trap the listener’s attention like the lengthy build structure of “New Queens” or the fuzzier approach from guitarist Joe Proffitt to the early moments of “Open Harvest,” leading to the Tool-style progressive crunch later in the song.
Closer “Therefore” is more straightforward — itself a surprising turn — casting itself around a rotomoulded guitar line that carries the trio easily into a tripped out segment ultimately leading into a multiple-layer solo, closing the album while a running sample leads out to feedback and a quick fade. Mnemosyne proves and enjoyable if mostly familiar listen, its quiet moments offering a solace from the weighty stoner doom otherwise dominant throughout. Lethe might be post-metal were their approach more pretentious, but as it stands, their psychedelia works on an accessible spectrum to combine warm, natural elements into a compound of vibes easily dug by prog nerds and stoner heads alike. One hopes that as the trio has more time on stage together (they’re booking a fall US tour now), the chemistry between players will lead to even bolder musical statements. Till then, Mnemosyne is an appropriately memorable debut.
Tags: Lethe, Reptile, Seattle