Few phrases precariously stand on the brink of collapsing under the weight of their own contradictions as “metal supergroup.” On some level, every metal band is—even before a now-legendary band like Mastodon formed, individual members had clocked some time in Today is the Day and other groups. You can’t throw a pentagram-branded stone at a band without hitting about a half-dozen side projects. Converge? Neurosis? Deafheaven? Yep—their members have all moonlit elsewhere, and frequently with stellar results. But the flipside of that argument is that while the thing that makes these bands “super” is their instrumental skill, songwriting ability and creative vision, their level of fame is only measurable by the strictures of the underground. Nobody’s clamoring for another Damn Yankees, but it’s easy to forget that short-lived hard-rock powerhouse sold two million copies of their debut. If an independent metal act were to pull that off in a climate like today’s, that’d be nothing short of a goddamn miracle.
Great Falls occupy that paradoxical space of being both a team of ringers and a group of underdogs. The Seattle heavy noise-rock trio’s members have put in their time in bands such as Undertow, Kiss It Goodbye and Jesu—an impressive enough list of names to know that anyone coming out the other side is guaranteed to be a seasoned wrecker of a musician. And on their fourth full-length album A Sense of Rest—released after a decade’s worth of demos, Bandcamp releases, compilations and even a few proper albums—Great Falls put that into practice via eight relentlessly intense tracks that demonstrate the best of what a metal band can be without subscribing to specific aesthetic limitations.
There isn’t any mistaking the sheer heaviness of the band’s music. Leadoff track “The Accelerationist” pummels and throttles, rumbles and destroys. It displays a muscular brutality that even the gnarliest noise rock rarely commits to, something akin to Neurosis through a Touch & Go or SST filter, and good god is it ferocious. It’s not that subtlety or nuanced shades don’t factor into what Great Falls do—it does, and in fact the intro to “Not-for-Sale Bodies” suggests deeper layers of haunting sound than their full-throated assault allows for. But they still always end up rising up into a menacing roar, their dissonant scrape always harboring a brute strength at its base.
The curious thing about Great Falls is how their violent musical approach is very much a vessel for intricate layers and fascinating details. And while a lot of perfectly good bands can pull off one or the other, it’s in the mixture of the two that Great Falls’ supergroup status comes into play. Of course those smaller details are not obvious on first listen—Great Falls’ first order of business is to send a shock to the system and to knock everyone the fuck over. And on that front, they succeed wildly. But it’s in the repeat listens, in the eruption of blast beats on “Kettle Logic” or the slowcore/shoegaze textures of “We Speak in Lowercase” or the dirgey darkness of “Baldessari Height”, where Great Falls transcend force and open themselves up. It takes a steely constitution to endure the initial onslaught, but what lies beyond is spectacular.