The nearly rabid critical acclaim that followed Pelican's debut full-length, Australasia, in 2003 and the sludge and blast of 2005's The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw (both on Aaron Turner's Hydra Head imprint) has been both blessing and curse for the band upon the release of 2007's City of Echoes. In other words, there is a tension surrounding the album's release that creates a make-or-break situation among fans and critics. While the recordings have some similar traits -- they are the same band, after all -- City of Echoes moves off the dock into sonic waters they've not entered before. Playing a guitar-saturated brand of extreme music is fraught with obstacles at this juncture -- especially after the nearly incessant touring that followed Fire and exposed them to so many people who had never heard them before and ratcheted up the underground culture's level of desire for something bigger and better. Pelicanhave done the only things they could do under these circumstances: shut the door on the outside world, take a rest, and figure out new ways of writing -- they pull out the stops by using craft and restraint to write actual "songs." It's a left turn, admittedly, but ultimately one that works. For starters, the tunes are shorter than on previous offerings -- the longest thing here is the title cut, which is just a shade over seven minutes. The band's rhythm section has been criticized, particularly drummer Larry Herweg for his thudding, previously metronomic style (some who only heard recordings thought Pelican used a drum machine -- ouch!). Here, Herweg is allowed a far greater range of expression, and actually plays against the beat in places, seeming to be out of time, while creating a new space for the guitars to enter in terms of tempo and texture. Elsewhere, the melodies Pelican built into their chugging riff style have been accented to create a more taut sense of dynamics.