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The Terrible Airplane - "Reconnaissance" (CD/EP)

The Terrible Airplane - "Reconnaissance" CD/EP cover image

"Reconnaissance" track listing:

1. Awkward Pocket
2. Who Painted Whispers On My Fortnight?
3. Glass Huffer
4. The Irrational Fear of Small Creatures
5. Minus

Reviewed by on September 19, 2009

"Todd Woolard's drumming is at its best on 'Who Painted Whispers On My Fortnight?,' alternating between simple time-keeping in the quieter moments and wild flailing of the best sort in other parts."

On the band's MySpace page, The Terrible Airplane describes its music as "minimalist progressive metal." Normally the words "minimalist" and "progressive metal" are mutually exclusive — but not in this case.

With "Reconnaissance," this band, which consists of Mark Woolard on guitars and vocals and his brother Todd on drums and percussion, manages to marry the complexity and fury of Mastodon with the instrumentation of the White Stripes. And you know what? More often than not, it works.

The five song EP opens with "Awkward Pocket," which thunders along so well that it'll take you a while to note that there's no bass guitar. Mark Woolard's vocals are reminiscent of Brent Hinds' screams on the old Mastodon albums, which also works to hide the sparseness of the instrumentation.

"Who Painted Whispers On My Fortnight?" continues to confound expectations, with a quiet beginning giving way to a louder, more drum-filled exercise as the vocals enter. Todd Woolard's drumming is at its best on "Who Painted Whispers On My Fortnight?," alternating between simple time-keeping in the quieter moments and wild flailing of the best sort in other parts. I'm particularly fond of the song's midpoint, which features a Sabbath-ish march tempo along the lines of "Children Of The Grave" that turns into a quiet moment that for some reason reminds me of Primus, though there's no bass.

The beginning of "Glass Huffer" is the one point on the disc where the sparse instrumentation conveys a weakness of sound. Luckily, that gives way to a really excellent riff and then a fun bouncy part that, while not exactly metal, is a nice rest for the ears. I'm sure that this section is exactly the kind of thing a Wichita City Paper reviewer was talking about when he compared the band to the Melvins and Mudhoney.

"The Irrational Fear of Small Creatures," which has gotten radio play in the Wichita area, is a good enough track, though some of the stop-and-start moments are a little disjointed.

"Minus," which closes the disc, is definitely its most experimental track. The first 30 seconds are near silence before the drums come in. Then, it's an excruciatingly slow build to near the three-minute mark when the guitars come thundering in. Even then, it's a slow groove over screamed vocals. Finally, at five minutes in, the song gains speed, relinquishing it only at the end before what sounds like a closing piano chord that just might be an homage to "Sgt. Pepper" (or maybe I've been listening to my Beatles remasters too much this week.)

This is an enjoyable EP to be sure, but sometimes I was drawn out of the music by some of the stuttering beats and riffs. For example, a section in "Minus" almost sounds like Mark Woolard is singing a different song than the one he's playing on his guitar — and to make matters even more confusing, it sounds like Todd Woolard's drumming might be from another song still.

That said, I had a lot of fun discovering what two guys could do with guitars and drums on The Terrible Airplane's "Reconnaissance." You'll be amazed at the sonic depth these brothers bring without bothering too much with bass.

Highs: "Who Painted Whispers On My Fortnight?" and "Awkward Pocket."

Lows: "Glass Huffer" shows some weakness instrumentally; an over-reliance on stop-and-start rhythms makes some songs a little confusing.

Bottom line: A fun album that shows that instrumental minimalism can work with progressive metal music.

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)