Comets on Fire - Avatar (CD)
Catalog number: SPCD 704
It comes at you like a near-lethal cocktail of whiskey and adrenaline, looking both to the Seventies and light-years in the future. Not many bands have the audacity to begin an album with a solo and stretch its parent track to seven-and-a-half minutes long these days, but then again not many bands are like Comets On Fire. Even in Avatar's first minute you could reference the riffs of Black Sabbath; the unhinged, masculine energy of Led Zeppelin; and the brain-melting freeform combustions of Acid Mothers Temple. Yet even these comparisons sell the quintet short: where the previous bands have carved a niche, Comets On Fire have blurred and burned the lines so that they cover each other easily and unknowingly. Avatar may not be as intense or as out-of-loop as expected, but its otherworldy mix of prog-rock and freeform more than lives up to the expectations formed in the wake of 2004's Blue Cathedral.
Part psychedelic jam band, part sub-Sonic Youth avant-rock skull–shredders, Comets On Fire’s previous trio of albums have displayed a gradual ratcheting up of quality. Their freeform freakouts have increasingly been given shape and purpose, especially after second guitarist (and Six Organs Of Admittance mainstay) Ben Chasny joined in 2003. Avatar is their most three-dimensional sounding record to date. Standout track, "Jaybird", is all jazzy chordal inflections, airy harmonies and skittering drums which briefly threatens to become The Byrds’ "Eight Miles High" before sliding into a bruising refrain that sounds like '60s acid-rockers Iron Butterfly.
Starting about five years back, if you wanted to hear hellish, paint-peeling squalls of dementia disguised as people playing distorted guitars really loud, then Santa Cruz's Comets on Fire were a hell of a go-to. Their first three albums are what Hawkwind would've resembled if they were hell-bent to Lemmy's liking: Ayler-tinted free-jazz sax freak-outs, overdriven bass, lots of woop-woop-fweee-whirrrr gutter-Moog convulsions, and Ethan Miller's unholy wail belting out garbled threats that sounded like the Tasmanian Devil reciting Lovecraft. Only crazier. While they used to play as though any space between noises would mean instant crash and burn, there's more sprawl on this album, with plenty of room for the piano-driven burnout waltzes, Arkestral immigrant songs, and Mott-the-Hooplish slow-dive glam ballads to slowly warp into complex meditations. It's still raucous at times, and there's plenty of propulsion to go around, but retreating from the outer limits of noise hasn't hurt them a bit.