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Certainly since “doom” and “death” became joined at the hyphen, the last thing metal has needed is another subgenre. But it’s still tempting to coin one to describe Pelican’s Australasia, the first full-length by a Chicago-based quartet that’s something of a rara avis: a band that recasts metal as easy listening. Well, not quite that easy: Though there’s nothing on the all-instrumental album more extreme than classic rock’s heaviest offerings—Back in Black, say, or Paranoid—Australasia is definitely more the product of a modern metal sensibility than an old-fashioned blues one. You can hear it in the massy power chords of the eight-minute “Drought,” in the way guitarists Trevor de Brauw and Laurent Lebec wallop at their palm-muted strings like blacksmiths at anvils. That track, like the entirety of Pelican’s self-titled 2003 EP, is pure minimalism. Yet it’s a minimalism that’s got nothing to do with academic posturing: There’s palpable joy in the way these guys obsess over a couple of riffs and rhythms—you can practically hear them exulting in the wonder of amplifier technology. Some folks want to peg this stuff “drone-doom,” but there’s way too much straightforward melody and major-key optimism in these songs for the D-word. All the band really has in common with that particular style is a lack of speed. On “Nightendday” and “GW,” for example, de Brauw and Lebec let their chords sustain and breathe, giving the high strings some ring, too. And the 11-minute “Angel Tears” crawls viscously, gradually accumulating rhythmic density. The untitled fifth track is even slower. Drumless and bass-free, the song is perhaps the most telling on the disc: If not for the creepy, quavering singing-saw solo, the melancholic, acoustic melody would make an excellent emotional cue on Gilmore Girls or The O.C. Granted, everyone from Sabbath to Morbid Angel has thrown acoustic ballads on otherwise brutal records, but this track doesn’t seem like a departure so much as a Pelican song without amps. Electric or not, these guys are suckers for a pretty tune—songbirds, if you will. —Brent Burton