Across Tundras dust up new adventures on ‘Sage’

Americana roots are something that are becoming more present in metal and its various sub-genres.

You have Man’s Gin¸ a gritty, largely acoustic effort from Cobalt songwriter Erik Wunder; U.S. Christmas (USX), an Appalachia-colored epic weaver of a band; Horseback, who we visited last week, who drank deeply from this well on “Invisible Mountain”; and Earth, the legendary drone band that once counted Kurt Cobain amongst its contributors. All of those bands can’t exactly be termed as simply metal, though there’s obvious crossover appeal and their music appears on labels that typically pump out extreme sounds. And those are only a few examples, but it’s a phenomenon that isn’t terribly widespread (yet), therefore the bands employing these age-old, dusty sounds stand apart. You can add to that lot Across Tundras, a band that has grown and progressed quite organically and now find themselves on Neurot, the label started by members of Neurosis (surely, they need no introduction here) for their music and side projects but now boasts an impressive roster of other bands.

Before landing at Neurot, Across Tundras recorded for other, smaller labels and even put out their own records. One of those, last
year’s “Old World Wanderer,” we had a chance to hear and review over at Metal Maniacs, and you can read that review right here:   Their fifth album “Sage” is ready to drop next week, and anyone who’s followed the band over their career likely won’t be too surprised by what it sounds like but surely will be impressed by how top-notch the band plays. Not that they ever lacked in the performance category, mind you. They were always more interesting, more forward-thinking than your neighborhood doom band, with their penchant for the aforementioned Americana and classic rock roots adding more color to their creations. “Sage” realizes that effort more confidently, more satisfyingly than ever before.

The Tanner Olson-led band actually would make great tour mates with USX. It would be a night to find a seat in the dark corner of the room, double-fist cold ales, and let you be taken away to the dusty plains and wooden door-gates bars. Their storytelling and accompanying stagecoach-rocking soundtrack (rounded out by bassist Matt Shively and drummer Nathan Rose) is raucous, melodic and infectious, and make no mistake, their records are made to be heard front to back. It’s a journey, not a quick stop. “Sage” not only embraces those who feast on doom rock and metal and psychedelic sounds, but you can safely recommend it to friends, family members, whoever, who spend their time spinning the hell out of old Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Grateful Dead, and Allman Bros. records without facing scorn later. Chances are, they’ll get the spirits being conjured here.

The album opens with “In the Name of the River Grand,” pulling you into a Texan adventure, with Southern-seasoned rock, slurry vocals from guitarist Olson and Western horns that make it sound like the cavalry is near. “Hijo de Desierto” rocks hard and has the narrator seeking “cool, clear water”; “Buried Arrows” has a dark ambiance and a tribal feel (perhaps the arrowheads on the album cover refer to this passage), with Lilly Hiatt adding her gorgeous backing vocals to flesh out the tale; “Tchulu Junction” is spacious, yet direct, with a reminder to everyone that taking the wrong path could cost you your soul, as Olson reminds, “An angry god will cut you down one day”; “Mean Season Movin’ On” is the epic of the set, running 12 minutes and changing paces from slow drawl, to fiery explosiveness, to trippy wonder; while closing instrumental “Shunka Sapa” sits in a mind-altering fog, as it moves across the land, letting this book fade into the night.

Many metal fans are close-minded, so seeing the words Americana or folk or classic rock may make some readers feel uneasy. But don’t let that happen to you. Across Tundras may not be metal through and through, but they have some of those elements. Their music is human and real, and I’d certainly pick to listen to them for an entire car ride, over and over, than 10 modern death metal bands with no new ideas and only decibels on their side. I’ve had “Sage” pretty much on regular rotation since the album arrived about a month ago in my e-mail, and I found that when I hear it, I do a tremendous amount of thinking because of how it seemingly expands my mind. I relish bands such as these, and every Across Tundras album is its own adventure, crossing into territory they have in the past, but never the same roads. “Sage” is a milestone for this band, and it’s only bigger and better from here. No doubt they’ll continue to take the back roads all over this land, bringing their music to eager ears and learning new stories along the way. That should only make album number six that much more compelling.

For more on the band, go here:

To by “Sage,” or some other cool Across Tundras gear, go here:

For more on Neurot, go here: