Let’s say you’re American Heritage. You hail either from Chicago or Gainesville, Georgia, depending on who in the band you are, and you put out an album that gets some pretty sizeable critical response in 2006 called Millenarian on Translation Loss. Two years go by and you decide it’s time to start putting together your next album – but wait, your bass player isn’t with you anymore. Sure there are plenty of bands who go without these days, and with two guitars, you would probably be heavy enough in any case, but some people just like to make things difficult, and apparently you’re that kind of person. Or band.
Instead of going without a low end, which is almost never the right move, or finding a permanent bassist in time to make their new album, Sedentary (also Translation Loss), American Heritage recruited a variety of players from the landscape of modern metal, including such luminaries as Bill Helliher of Mastodon, with whom American Heritage released a split way back when, Rafa Martinez of Black Cobra/Acid King and the ubiquitous Sanford Parker, who also recorded the basic tracks for the three remaining members of American Heritage – guitarist/vocalist Adam Norden, guitarist Scott Shellhammer and drummer Mike Duffy.
It’s a huge project, and with several other outside contributions as well – Lon Hackett who handles bass on opener “City of God” also plays keyboard, Kelliher also rips an added guitar solo on the grinding “Fetal Attraction,” Josh Rosenthal is lead vocalist for the wonderfully titled Martinez-bassed “Morbid Angle,” etc. – it’s a wonder American Heritage came out of it with anything close to a cohesive album. To their credit, and to the credit of Parker who mixed, they did. Norden’s vocals, which are cleaner on Sedentary than they were on Millenarian, are a tying factor, but even more than that, the changes Sedentary presents — there are plenty – are more related to toying with different genres than some kind of tonal inconsistency. Usually something with this many guests involved is either a wreck or a compilation. American Heritage have managed to pull an album out of what must have been a nightmarishly convoluted process, and before any measure is taken of how the thing actually sounds, they have to be commended for that.
No shortage of hyperbole was tossed in the direction of Millenarian when it was released, and doubtless any momentum as regards being the “next big thing” American Heritage had at that point is long gone by now, but the sound of that record and the more-developed version of it that comprises Sedentary did indeed become much of the shape heavy metal has taken in the last five years. “Sickening Rebellion” blends angular grinding riffs with harsh guest vocals from Rick Leech (also bass and guitar solo on that track), but a cut like “Chaotic Obliteration” is directly in line with the kind of sub-melodicism and technical riffing that has put bands like Bison B.C. and Kylesa on the map. The disparate approaches American Heritage take – i.e., they don’t just do that thing for the whole album – speaks to a drive to do more than simply what everyone else is doing, and the minute-long doom-into-Black-Flag hardcore of “Kiddie Pool of Baby Blood” somehow works coming out of it. Maybe that’s punk roots coming through, or maybe it’s just especially well executed fuck-all. Sounds cool either way.
Sedentary progresses best with Norden on vocals, the mid-paced “Vessels/Vassals” (Parker’s bass contribution) making the most of chugging riffs from he and Shellhammer, while Duffy proves he can easily handle whatever the song throws at him. His turns, fills and steady hands and feet are just as much a factor in the success of Sedentary as Norden’s singing – perhaps even more so, since he drums every track and Norden takes a back seat vocally on “Sickening Rebellion,” “Slave by Force” and “Morbid Angle.” It’s a stellar performance, whoever is in the lead, and as the legit hardcore “Fetal Attraction” gives way to the more metallic “Tomb Cruise,” the stylistic ADD is brought to ground and made palpable by Duffy. Still, songs like “Chaotic Obliteration,” “Vessels/Vassals” and closer “WWDHD” (the latter as much if not more of a highlight than the other two) show American Heritage working in a different mode than the shorter, faster cuts, and it’s the middle ground of “City of God” and the later “Abduction Cruiser” that helps bridge that divide, and even a drummer as capable as Duffy clearly is can only be a part of that. It’s a full-band consciousness at work.
They might have missed their moment to take over heavy metal, but American Heritage (who since have been joined by permanent bassist Erik Bocek) still have an exemplary interpretation of the contemporary modus operandi that’s worth hearing regardless of how you feel about the post-Mastodon sonisphere. Sedentary, the lyrics of which are said to be based on the notion of transition out of a nomadic means of survival, is anything but appropriate to its name. In its mission and overall frenetic feel, it’s more of a statement of resistance to creative stagnation, a kind of bliss resulting from the desperate reaching for challenge. Like I said, some folks just have to make things difficult.
Tags: American Heritage, Chicago, Gainesville, Georgia, Illinois, Translation Loss