Experimental noise rock is a tough sell. The lack of consistency, melody, structure – it’s all naturally unsettling and often off-putting to the general listener. And to host a near $4,000 campaign and press the release on vinyl for a band without a tight following is ballsy to say the least. Courageous? Honorable? Pretentious? Maybe all of the above.
Marathon‘s long-awaited release Sanctuary runs over a half-hour long (31:55), making an extra effort to grab only the listeners dedicated enough to the project – and its genre – to hear the album in its entirety. The Brandon Beachum-run project has at times expanded its members into the double digits over the past year, commonly taking up so much space on stages around Central Illinois that they’ve had to move into the crowd in order to set up before shows. The ambition behind the idea is no secret, especially in an age where media clips dominate over media pieces. It’s also an interesting one, to say the least. No one is doing what Beachum is trying to do with Marathon’s “Guitarkestra,” but the difficulties in getting enough outside momentum behind a project of this caliber in order to get it off the ground may be why that’s all its ever been: a cool idea. The current stronghold for short attention spans is an army against Marathon, who in this situation seems like one little boy with a stone clenched in his hand, yelling as hard as he can on the other side of the fight. It’s no match. It fails, as it’s expected to. And it’s forgettable, as it’s expected to. Of course, if you let it.
There’s beautiful moments hidden in the cracks of Sanctuary – but just moments. A large portion of the release leaves you grasping at what could be, instead of what is. The near-melodies leave the listener responsible for filling in the blanks, but the trouble is that no listener today wants the burden of the work put on them. The question winds up being, “It’s difficult enough to get through the rest of the day, why does this have to be hard too?” The guitarwork that chaotically spirals in at 12 and a half minutes leads into some great riffs, even if they only last a second or two before falling out of context with what you’ve trained your ears to want to hear. There’s the disappearance of everything at the 18-minute mark, leading into a monk-like chant that you wouldn’t have seen coming. And then there’s an utter explosion about 30 seconds later that will shove a rocket up your ass, whether were expecting it to or not. But taking 30 minutes to get there? That’s an investment only the truly dedicated will make – and with a small noise group of Marathon’s stature, you won’t need to take your socks off to count the people who will honestly stick it out long enough to hear how Sanctuary ends.
Marathon’s experiment with pushing a back-shelf genre into a mainstream format will – in all likelihood – not pan out the way they may have hoped. While the detail is there at times, the content still remains an inside joke to most listeners who weren’t paying attention when the punchline hit. The effort and care behind Sanctuary is nothing to put on trial, but the logic of taking such a small artist in a genre so barren of outside interest and pressing it to vinyl is more so a pageantry to force demand, rather than a response to any sort of demand itself.