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

Odds & Ends – March 9, 2020

a1331639050_10Band: Ak’chamel, The Giver Of Illness | Album: The Totemist | Genre: Krautrock, Psychedelic folk | Bandcamp

The Totemist is a swirl of ritualistic atmosphere and repetition. The murky aura augments the contrasts between the sharp notes of the acoustic instruments and the omnipresent, sinister drone. The compositions morph in naturalistic ways, and subtle touches of jazz are worked in amid the faux-shamanic folk, resulting in something quite creative.

Score: 75/100

a2807075973_10Band: Cthulhu Rise | Album: Last | Genre: Progressive rock, Jazz-fusion | Bandcamp

This instrumental Ukrainian band reminds me a lot of Liquid Tension Experiment. The roots of the act’s sound clearly derive from Dream Theater-style melodic prog metal, but jazz plays a large role here too. The individual musicians flaunt their chops on the three songs here, but the soloing always comes off as purposeful. Each track is full of surprising twists and turns, with few ideas sticking around for more than about a minute at a time. Somehow, it avoids feeling disjointed.

Score: 84/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – March 9, 2020”

Odds & Ends – December 2, 2019

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legendryBand: Legendry | Album: The Wizard and the Tower Keep | Genre: Power metal, Progressive rock | Bandcamp

For all the hackneyed, cliché, sword-and-sorcery heavy metal imagery Pittsburgh’s Legendry evoke in their artwork and lyrics, the music is ambitious and inventive while remaining surprisingly accessible. They walk a fine line straddling traditional metal, power metal, and progressive rock with their speedy riffs, dramatic vocals, and soaring solos. The Hammond organ adds a distinct character that helps Legendry stand out from other traditional metal acts.

Score: 84/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – December 2, 2019”

Deep Dive: Porcupine Tree & Steven Wilson

pt deep diveWelcome to the third installment of Deep Dive, where I take an in-depth look at the studio discographies of some of the giants of progressive rock and progressive metal.

For those who don’t feel like reading this massive entry, I’ve included a TL;DR and ranking of albums at the end. I’m opting to explore albums chronologically, as opposed to a ranked-list format. The context in which albums were made is important, and this is an element often missed in a ranked list.

My first two entries in this series focused on some of the giants of progressive rock’s 1970s heyday. For this entry, I wanted to focus on something heavier, which means someone more modern. After weighing a few options and starting Deep Dive entries on a couple other artists, I settled on Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson.

Porcupine Tree covered a wide style of music until their disbandment in 2010, ranging from space rock to art pop to progressive metal. Wilson has maintained that experimental spirit in his solo career, covering similar ground across his five solo albums. The early-21st Century progressive rock renaissance we’re currently enjoying may not have happened at all, had it not been for the wide success of Porcupine Tree, which opened the door for many, many other acts.

As a disclaimer, this essay does not cover all of Steven Wilson’s myriad musical projects. The man is too prolific for me to reasonably address all those projects in this one essay. I am solely focusing on Porcupine Tree and his solo material. No-Man and Bass Communion don’t fit this site’s purview; and while Blackfield and Storm Corrosion may fall under the margins of progressive rock, I simply don’t like their output and would not enjoy reviewing them in-depth. I also do not plan to discuss his remastering work on classic prog albums. I do highly recommend his King Crimson remasters, though I’d avoid his work on Too Old to Rock n Roll: Too Young to Die!, as mentioned in my Jethro Tull Deep Dive. Continue reading “Deep Dive: Porcupine Tree & Steven Wilson”

Album Review: Garcia Peoples – One Step Behind

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Band: Garcia Peoples | Album: One Step Behind | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Progressive rock, Krautrock | Year: 2019

From: Rutherford, (NJ,) USA | Label: Beyond Beyond Is Beyond

For fans of: The Grateful Dead, Gong, The Moody Blues

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music

Garcia Peoples’ 2018 debut album, Cosmic Cash, easily made my personal top 10 of last year, with its mixture of inventive song structures, psychedelic textures, and fun, loose garage rock atmosphere. Their album from March of this year, Natural Facts, while enjoyable, didn’t quite hit the same highs as their debut. It was more overtly folk-influenced, with significant touches of Americana. It seemed they were charting out a trajectory reminiscent of the Grateful Dead. With this context, this album took me by surprise.

One Step Behind is nearly 40 minutes long but contains only two songs, one of which stretches over half an hour. There remain ample doses of Dead-like jangly guitars, but the band have also included krautrock-like meditation and repetition, as well as technical guitar and keyboard lines I would expect from the likes of Yes. Continue reading “Album Review: Garcia Peoples – One Step Behind”