Co-Pilot, The Course of Empire

Co-Pilot, The Course of Empire

I can’t say whether it’s the song/album titles or the fact that I’ve been reading far too much about the battle of Thermopylae lately, but when I listen to Co-Pilot’s The Course of Empire, I find myself consistently thinking about war — about some long-ago clash between two rival armies, two massive groups of warriors clashing on a battlefield somewhere in the woods in the dead of winter.

I know that sounds crazy, especially given that the Houston/Austin instrumentalists have generally been known in the past for lush, heavenward soundscapes that owe a lot more to My Bloody Valentine, Explosions in the Sky, space exploration, and the Northern Lights (the natural phenomena, mind you, not a band) than they do, say, The Lord of the Rings. But believe me when I say that this time around, Co-Pilot are a very different band; they’re still atmospheric as all hell, still all-instrumental, and still jaw-droppingly beautiful (when they need to be), but now they’re fucking heavy, on top of all the rest.

The five-song EP starts off somewhat like I’d expected it would with “Breathe Together,” which sees an awesomely deep, almost Low-like melody from bassist Brandon Lemons serving as the foundation for the song while those trademark skyward-aimed guitars come soaring through overhead. Guitarists Derek Lemons and Mike Byers crank up the volume close to the song’s end, with drummer Brandon Zavala gradually building to an awesome crescendo, but throughout, it still sounds relatively familiar, the same beautiful, grand-sounding spacerock the band’s made all along. If there were vocals, there’d be parts of the song (and others on here, to boot) that would sound a heck of a lot like Texas emo icons Mineral and follow-on project The Gloria Record; those outfits possessed the same delicate, meditative grace that Co-Pilot displays here in spades.

From there, “Sunlight Breaks Through” segues in so smoothly that you’d be forgiven for not realizing the CD had moved on to another track. The chiming, quiet guitars tick-tock back and forth, like Seam minus the distortion, and the deliberate, somber-yet-warm movement of the music makes me think of following a path through the woods to some far-off destination, in the dark with no one else around, when suddenly there’s a break in the trees up ahead, light spilling down onto the forest floor below.

Third track “Land Empires” begins with minimal, wintry piano and delicately plucked guitar, a section that sounds less like spacerock than, say, an Eisley song. That feeling doesn’t even really change when the “real” guitars come in, either; the track is tense but beautiful and understated, even then. It’s not ’til near the halfway that everything breaks loose — that’s when the band throws off its disguise and kicks on the distortion pedal, stepping up and into awesomely massive, doom-y, atmospheric metal a la Pelican or Red Sparowes.

That’s also about where my jaw drops, and it pretty much stays there all the way to the end of closing track “Only Myths Will Remain.” After the initial setup, “Land Empires” is martial, in-your-face (yet still high-flying) instro-metal; it’s like a whole different band’s taken over, one that drinks less at the altar of MBV, Spiritualized, or The Secret Machines and more at that of ISIS or Russian Circles. The song sounds, to me, like an army on the march, slowly but methodically, to some place where they’ll finally confront their enemies.

If that’s the case, “Broken Shield” is the actual conflict. It begins cautiously, quietly, but with a serious, almost desperate intenseness to it that seems to say that there’s something coming, and then the stomping drums come marching in, followed by amps-on-fire walls of guitar roar punctuated by poignantly beautiful little melody lines. It’s crashing, thundering stuff that makes you want to bang your head along in time — the ending of the track is very nearly thrash, for crying out loud — but it’s also still lush and majestic. There’re even some flat-out nods to myth-metal heroes like The Sword, Mastodon, or even Maiden and Sabbath. When the song ends, you feel like you’ve witnessed something epic, even though you haven’t seen a thing or heard a word.

Closer “Only Myths Will Remain” goes back somewhat to that Mineral/Gloria Record-esque sound I’d mentioned earlier, all low-key strings, distant feedback, and reined-in drums, and even when it gets louder and heavier, it’s less confrontational than the previous couple of tracks. There’s an melancholy, elegaic feel to it, but at the same time, it’s a hopeful track, like the sound of the sun rising when you thought it might not ever make an appearance again. It’s time to take a breath, pick yourself up, and move on.

At the EP’s end, I’m left feeling like I’ve just watched a movie unfold up on the big screen, some appropriately epic-yet-serious story of struggle and glory and whatever else. And I immediately want to see/hear it all again. My hat’s off to any band who can pull off that feat, much less in a mere five songs.

Feature photo by Krista New.

[Co-Pilot is playing 10/14/10 at The Mink, along with Omotai & Eagle Claw.]
(self-released; Co-Pilot -- http://www.leavingtheground.com/)
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Review by . Review posted Thursday, October 14th, 2010. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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7 Responses to “Co-Pilot, The Course of Empire

  1. DAC on October 15th, 2010 at 11:34 am

    Agreed. One of 2010’s best!

  2. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. Weekend, Pt. 1: Bad Religion + Ghost Town Electric + Appleseed Cast + Co-Pilot + Benjamin Wesley + Prince Paul + More on January 8th, 2011 at 2:17 am

    […] one of the best EPs I’ve heard in a while with their disc The Course of Empire (review over here). The latter band’s reach-the-sky (and increasingly instro-metal) tendencies will be a badass […]

  3. SPACE CITY ROCK » Tonight: Unwed Sailor, Co-Pilot, Warbler Pl, & Giant Cloud, at The Mink on February 21st, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    […] them only as a spacerock band before dropping their latest bomb of an EP, The Course of Empire (see here for the review), on me and surging upwards into the heady realm of thundering, orchestral, […]

  4. SPACE CITY ROCK » Coming Up: Co-Pilot Leads an Atmospheric, Heavy Blowout, This Saturday on August 3rd, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    […] fall’s The Course of Empire is still one of the best instrumental albums I’ve heard in the last half-decade or so, and to […]

  5. SPACE CITY ROCK » A Night of Heavy, Loud, Metal Music, Coming Up This Weekend at The Mink on December 13th, 2011 at 9:40 am

    […] the bulk of the atmospheric-y metal bands I’ve heard. Check out this past year’s The Course of Empire if you don’t believe me; I can listen to the damn EP over and over and over again, I […]

  6. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. Weekend, Pt. 1: The Octopus Project + Benefit for Tim Young + Co-Pilot + Clory Martin + The Suffers + More on January 20th, 2012 at 8:56 am

    […] that verges on stoner metal in the best possible way — I still can’t escape their Course of Empire EP from back in 2010. The latter don’t play out all that often, btw, so take that into […]

  7. SPACE CITY ROCK » Tonight: Omotai, Co-Pilot, Sleep Envy, & DSGNS at Fitz on January 3rd, 2015 at 9:02 pm

    […] even when they turn their sights on more earthly pursuits like they did on their 2010 release, The Course of Empire. “Land Empires” remains one of the best instrumental-rock tracks I’ve ever heard, […]

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