Album Review: Slift – Ummon

sliftBand: Slift | Album: Ummon | Genre: Space rock, Krautrock | Year: 2020

From: Toulouse, France | Label: Vicious Circle and Stolen Body Records

For fans of: Elder’s new stuff, Can, Ash Ra Tempel, Fuzz

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music

Slift are a French trio who combine the ethos and aesthetic trappings of garage rock with cosmic atmosphere and mantra-like repetition. I was introduced to them via their 2018 album, La Planète Inexplorée. That album was great, and Ummon took everything I loved about it and cranked it up even harder.

Ummon is not a record for the faint of heart. It’s 72 minutes of garage-kraut-doom (or maybe doom-garage-kraut) with barely any breathing room. Huge, abrasive walls of guitar dominate this record, while chaotic bursts of noise pummel the listener. The band members themselves give fair warning on how key repetition is to this album’s sound on their Bandcamp page (or, as they phrase it, “r r e e p p e e t t i i t t i i o o n n”). With all this in mind, if you’re willing to give it a shot, this album is highly rewarding.

The title track opens with an echoing guitar line over building bass and drums before launching into the main riff. These destructive, metallic blasts give way to a verse which is more menacing than outright aggressive, and the clear backing vocals are deployed as an excellent counterweight to the hoarse lead vocals.

The third track, “Thousand Helmets of Gold” is one of the most straightforward pieces on the album. The vocal melody is engaging, and the riffage between verses twists and squeals in exciting ways. Synthesizers are deployed to great effect; the lush textures contrast with the grittiness of everything else.

“Citadel on a Satellite” begins with the most overtly doom metal-inspired riff yet, but that quickly dissolves into slightly-askew space-jazz. The intensity does build up again, and it’s not long before the listener encounters some of the craziest rhythms yet. Cascading guitar arpeggios pair alongside tumbling drums and biting bass. (In fact, the bass work is out of this world on all of Ummon.) The last four minutes of the song give the listener a bit of respite as a wiggly synth line winds the song down over a quiet backing track.

The band’s more melodic garage rock roots show up in the vocals on “Hyperion”. “Altitude Lake” is the rare example of a song starting off slow, rather than bursting out of the gates, only to pump the brakes midway through. That’s not to call it an idyll, though, as Slift’s signature walls of distortion do of course show up.

“Sonar” is a song where the title perfectly matches the music. Everything is drenched in echo and reverb. The main riff consists of a big “pulse” of distorted guitar, followed by an “echo” of gentler noodling. The  prominent ride cymbal, combines with the jazzy bass work to make this one of the most distinct songs on the album. That jazziness continues on “Dark Was Space, Cold Were the Stars”. That song’s outro is one of the most overtly-proggy moments on the album, with its synth part transitioning into a majestic, clean-guitar-centric piece.

Ummon ends on “Lions, Tigers and Bears”, a 13-minute monster. Slift’s noise influences are apparent in its opening minutes, with the guitar often devolving into a screeching squall of distortion. The verses draw heavy influence from punk and sludge metal, but much of the riffing is technical and melodic. The band’s penchant for repetition is most clearly displayed here. The motorik backbone of the song’s middle is at first a canvas for guitar experiments and then, later, synth excursions. The song’s conclusion blends prog weirdness with massive, ominous doom metal riffs.

On Ummon, Slift have harnessed the menace of doom metal, the energy of garage rock, the hypnotic repetition of krautrock, and the general strangeness of prog. They put those elements together in an impressive and intense package. This album is demanding, but it is worth your time and energy.

Score: 93/100

Top Prog EPs of 2019

Top EPs 2019Welcome to the first of three planned installments for this site’s best of 2019. Starting things off is TheEliteExtremophile’s Top Prog EPs of 2019. The vast bulk of what I listen to for this blog is full-length albums, and the assorted prog-related genres tend to be long-winded. As such, this list contains only five entries, but all five are highly recommended.

As a disclaimer, I’m sure there are some excellent releases not included. This site is my personal pet project, and I simply cannot listen to everything that gets released. I also have my personal biases against some rather popular trends in prog, which affected the composition of this list. But if you’ve got recommendations, do not hesitate to shoot them my way, either through this site, via email, or through my Facebook page. Continue reading “Top Prog EPs of 2019”

Odds & Ends – September 23, 2019

TEE odds and ends logo

a2161853656_10Band: Chaos Over Cosmos | Album: The Unknown Voyage | Genre: Progressive metal | Bandcamp

Chaos Over Cosmos’s debut album draws heavily from acts like Fates Warning and Symphony X. The music is fleshed out with lush synths. There’s no shortage of power metal cheese, both vocally and instrumentally. The songs themselves tend to be pretty long, but they do a good job of keeping the momentum up and not overstaying their welcome.

Score: 73/100

a0570910034_10Artist: Richard Henshall | Album: The Cocoon | Genre: Progressive metal, Progressive rock | Bandcamp

The latest album from Haken’s guitarist/keyboardist is exactly what you’d expect. There are tons of speedy, intricate riffs, and smart contrasts of metallic heaviness with moments of jazzy and poppy levity. The soloing is restrained, avoiding the common pitfall of virtuosic masturbation that you often find in this corner of prog. My one real complaint here is that Henshal’s vocals are pretty weak. His chops as a guitarist are solid, but his voice is often weak or strained.

Score: 80/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – September 23, 2019”

Album Review: Louis de Mieulle – Side$how

ldmArtist: Louis de Mieulle | Album: Side$how | Genre: Progressive rock, Jazz fusion | Year: 2019

From: New York, USA | Label: Dalang Records

For fans of: Return to Forever, Magma, Brainticket, Probably a lot of those jazzy instrumental metal acts I don’t like

Buy: Bandcamp | Apple Music

I’ve been pretty open in my general hesitance toward instrumental albums. I’m not the kind of person to pay attention to lyrics, but the human voice adds so much character to music, which can be quite difficult to make up for with just instruments. I don’t believe I’ve discussed it in any great detail on this site—though I’ve made a few comments about it on Reddit—but I am also not a fan of the current zeitgeist of jazzy, instrumental rock and metal epitomized by acts like Intervals, Plini, and Sithu Aye. So much of it just sounds like aimless, speedy noodling. Thank God this album avoids those pitfalls magnificently.

French-born bassist and composer Louis de Mieulle’s newest album, Side$how, is a constantly-engaging blend of ambitious instrumental progressive rock with many trappings of jazz. Touches of electronic genres and krautrock crop up throughout this release’s 41-minute runtime. Consisting of eight songs, titled “Bed of Nails, Part 1-8”, the music was mostly improvised and recorded live by de Mieulle, a pair of keyboardists, and a drummer. Continue reading “Album Review: Louis de Mieulle – Side$how”