Pelican Credit: Marfa Capodanno

Chicago (mostly) instrumental progressive-metal favorites Pelican produced full-lengths on a fairly regular schedule throughout the 00s, but that reliability began to break down when the decade flipped to the 10s. Four years passed between What We All Come to Need and Forever Becoming, the first album with Dallas Thomas of the Swan King stepping in for original guitarist Laurent Schroeder-Lebec. It’s taken Pelican another six years to release their brand new Nighttime Stories, but listening to it and learning some of the history behind it provide perspective on the delay. The name of the album and the titles of its songs come from Jody Minnoch, a longtime friend and collaborator (he formed Tusk in 1998 with three future members of Pelican) who passed away in 2014. And as the band was in the midst of writing the record, using Minnoch’s notes as inspiration, Thomas lost his father. Pelican’s greatest talent has always been their ability to convey an enormous range of emotions using highly technical music without relying on the relatively easy connection enabled by vocals, and the sad backstory of Nighttime Stories lends even greater depth to its painterly soundscapes. One of the album’s heaviest songs, “Cold Hope,” has relatively little flash—just serpentine circling rhythm, weight, and power. On the title track, guitar lines whip about like trees in a high wind or keen like mourners at the kind of funeral where grief doesn’t have to be staid and polite. Nighttime Stories is a powerful comeback that will reward deeper listens over the years.   v