Ice Dragon, The Burl, the Earth, the Aether, The Sorrowful Sun and Tome of the Future Ancients: Devil in the SandboxPosted in Reviews on October 15th, 2014 by JJ Koczan
Especially listening to them one into the next, it’s hard not to try to string a narrative between Ice Dragon‘s albums The Burl, the Earth, the Aether (2010), The Sorrowful Sun (2011) and Tome of the Future Ancients (2012). All three — plus side-project Tentacle‘s 2013 sophomore offering, Ingot Eye — have been given a sturdy jewel case CD treatment from Canada’s PRC Music, each with a four-panel liner with the original covers plus lyrics, recording info and/or other art, and right away the intent feels archival, the label having stepped in to release these albums to give them some form outside the crowded nebula of their digital incarnations. To my knowledge, the only one of these three Ice Dragon records to have been pressed at all was The Sorrowful Sun, which Acid Punx released on tape alongside the Boston band’s 2007 self-titled debut (review here), but either way, these feel official and the ability to hold them and explore their art and liner notes gives each one that much more of its own personality. Ice Dragon have taken to putting out new music at such a prolific rate, sometimes it can be hard to keep up.
All the more reason to explore the releases individually, then, since they each have something different to offer, as has proven a big part of the appeal of Ice Dragon‘s work these last few years. We’ll start at, or at least near, the beginning:
The Burl, the Earth, the Aether (2010)
Their second. Working as the trio of bassist Joe, guitarist Carter and drummer/vocalist Ron, Ice Dragon began a run with The Burl, the Earth, the Aether that’s still going on. To date, they’ve released nine albums in the four years since, not to mention singles and splits and side-projects, but more than just the quantity of their output, the standout is the quality of it, and The Burl, the Earth, the Aether stands as a beginning point there as well. Comprised of eight tracks totaling in a 53-minute runtime, the album boasts the classic doom of “Squares inside Squares” and “The Watcher,” recorded with the raw and blown-out sensibilities of US black metal, but still riff-led in a stonerly tradition, and while Ron gets into some rougher shouts on “The Watcher” and “Alucard” — the Castlevania reference there fits with the record’s dark intent — far more prevalent are the echoing howls that resonate from the album’s overarching murk. In “Spellpouch,” “Meddoe” and “Winged Prophet,” Ice Dragon show their propensity for working with acoustics, and in the context of what they’ve done since, moving into psychedelic, psych-pop and folk influences, the ultra-quiet finish of “Winged Prophet” seems like a forebear of future adventurousness, while the ultra-distorted grandiosity of 11-minute closer “Aquageddon” and its blend of malevolent swirl and lumbering riffage with a slow descent into abrasive noise come across like a direct line to what Tome of the Future Ancients would have in store two years later.
The Sorrowful Sun (2011)
Both The Sorrowful Sun itself, which divides its concise 38 minutes into two roughly equal halves, and its Adam Burke artwork seem to be begging for a vinyl release, but no less on CD, what Ice Dragon achieves on their third album is a standout in their catalog. Aesthetically, there’s a cohesion and a confidence in the presentation of what just a year prior seemed to be experimentation, the swing of songs like “Interspecies Communication” and “Flowers” having solidified into the beer-soaked garage doom on which much of their current take remains based. Likewise, they begin to explore folkish material on “Light Years” — underscored by some righteous bass fuzz — and add several interludes in “Dusk,” and the intro “Sunrise” to give a more complete album-concept feel. The obscure psychedelia of “Poseidon’s Grasp,” with its mix-consuming leads, the drearier churn of “White Tusks” and the subdued exploration of “Near Sun, on Earth” make for as satisfying a three-track run as any Ice Dragon have yet conjured as they round out The Sorrowful Sun, the three-piece not only engaging a multitude of styles but successfully commanding all of them so that the songs flow well one into the next even as the sprawl grows wider. Particularly with a few years of hindsight, one can hear a lot being figured out on The Sorrowful Sun that seems like a foundation for where Ice Dragon would go creatively, but like its predecessor and even more than its predecessor, it stands on its own accomplishments as well and continues to resonate even three years later. If you needed a starting point for the band, The Sorrowful Sun might be it.
Tome of the Future Ancients (2012)
Including Tome of the Future Ancients, Ice Dragon released four full-length albums in 2012, and to date it was their most productive year, also resulting in Dream Dragon (tape review here), greyblackfalconhawk (discussed here) and the moody Dead Friends and Angry Lovers, initially released as a side-project called Slow Heart but later brought into the Ice Dragon fold. Of the bunch, Tome of the Future Ancients is by far the most expansive, and the intent of the 12-track/75-minute offering feels clearly bent toward the overwhelming. On CD, it is a beast. Half the songs top seven minutes, and whether it’s “The Black Book of Hours” or the opening “Manuscript 408,” Ice Dragon seem to be taking the drone lessons of Earth and applying them to their own brand of doom, thudding and struggling with various impulses along the way, be it the where-did-this-come-from boogie-to-noise onslaught of “Illuminations Foretold” or the excruciating plod of “Night” or the sitar-laced 10-minute blowout of “The Bearded Mage.” What unites the material is the fact that it’s all over the place, but “tome” is right as Ice Dragon prove that fuckall still rules the day on their fourth album. Relatively peaceful psychedelics on “Adoration of Ra” and non-abrasive experimental guitar sweetness on “Infinite Requiem” round out, but the campaign to get there is wearying, the trio merciless in crafting a path that seems to cut further and further into a clouded abyss of distortion and foreboding, where even the drone-noise of “Astronomical Union” pushes downward into a pervasive void of silence. It is lung-filling doom.
Tentacle, Ingot Eye (2013)
Like the manifestation of all of Ice Dragon‘s darkest tendencies, Tentacle ooze forth four tracks of abrasive, cavernous regression on their second outing, Ingot Eye. Originally released early in 2013, it’s another two-sider folded into a linear mass on the PRC CD — the back cover divides the songs, each “side” starting with a 10-plus-minute monster — and what it shares in common with Ice Dragon aside from the lineup and raw vibe is its immersiveness. As much as Ice Dragon push and pull in various directions, Tentacle swallows you whole, and Ingot Eye‘s four pieces — “The Blackness of My Soul will be so Great as to Make the Night Weep” (11:26), “Dull Ache (I Hate Myself Today)” (4:59), “(Revenge) Dust for Blood” (12:46) and “Our Serpent Mother’s Kiss” (9:53) — comprise a lumbering mass. The second cut, “Dull Ache (I Hate Myself Today),” is the only real point of letup, taking on a more shuffling groove and cleaner vocal, but “Our Serpent Mother’s Kiss” arrives at a downer moment of accessibility as well, the its vocals buried deep in gleefully farty low-end and preceded by devolved noise that’s emblematic of how unfriendly these guys can get when they feel like it. What distinguishes Ingot Eye most from Ice Dragon‘s output is how much Tentacle turns the band’s ambitions on their head. And then stomps that head into a muddy goo from which no light can escape.
Ice Dragon continue a multifaceted progression. This year, in addition to a split with Space Mushroom Fuzz (info here) and other singles, they’ve issued two full-lengths, Seeds from a Dying Garden (review here) and Loaf of Head (review here). PRC has a preorder available for a CD edition of Dream Dragon, so it seems safe to say that if the label and the band wish to continue their affiliation, there will be fodder for releases for years to come.