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Given the highly varied nature of Pelican's music, it's only natural that Laurent Lebec, a guitarist for this Chicago instrumental group, would have eclectic tastes. Still, even he's amazed at how diverse his list of favorites has grown. For instance, he's a big fan of Leviathan, a black-metal act whose immense riffing is definitely part of Pelican's palette. When it comes to less trendy ensembles, however, he concedes, "I'll probably end up embarrassing everybody else in the band by saying this -- but you could never have told me ten years ago that I would end up liking Supertramp. I can go back and listen to pretty much every record they did in the '70s and find great progressive pop music that I really, really like."

Folks who consider this admission to constitute the crime of the century will be reassured by The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw, Pelican's most recent CD for the Hydra Head imprint. Throughout the disc, Lebec and his associates (guitarist Trevor de Brauw, bassist Larry Herweg and his brother, drummer Brian Herweg) contrast moments of quiet melodic grandeur with majestic slabs of racket jarring enough to sate any headbanger. The majority of cuts aren't exactly bite-sized; "Aurora Borealis" fires up the sky for more than eleven minutes. Yet Lebec sees such expansiveness as part of Pelican's point. "When I approach a record like ours, I'm not just going back and listening to a specific track," he says. "I'm looking for a complete listening experience that starts and ends somewhere -- and that's what we tried to do with Fire in Our Throats. I think of it as more of an album than a collection of individual songs."

The ambition exhibited by the Pelican four has captured the notice of publications that don't typically cover music like theirs. Most surprisingly, the New York Times used an interview with Lebec to frame a September 2005 discussion of so-called art metal that ran under the headline "Heavy Metal Gets an M.F.A." To Lebec, the piece was a mixed blessing. "I'm proud of the fact that we were in a publication I read for very different reasons," he says. "But people who just listen to music without overthinking it describe their experiences in very different terms than journalists for the New York Times." In his view, "heavy metal doesn't need an M.F.A., and none of us are sitting around wondering how to take our brand of music to the next intellectual level. It's much more of a gut feeling when you play the music you like. It's instinctual."

As proof of this contention, Lebec reveals that Pelican's newest material has been moving away from the intricate, labyrinthine style that's evolved in recent years. "The energy has been upped a lot more, and the songs are getting to certain places quicker," he says. "It's a thrashy affair rhythmically right now, and quite urgent tempo-wise."

In other words, Pelican's latest stuff is more Leviathan than Supertramp. And for that, Lebec's bandmates are undoubtedly grateful.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts