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Unearthly Trance have never been an easy listen even by doom standards as experiences with 2006's "The Trident" have taught me but given the generally high standards of what I've heard from the band over time new album "V" was a tempting proposition. Subscribing to the old 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' adage UT's mixture is part ponderous droning doom (think YOB, or when at their very slowest, Abandon) and part sludgy noise (think Kongh, Minsk or Crowbar) with the delightful screams of guitarist/vocalist Ryan Lipynsky over the top and it's result is about as uplifting as discovering the woman you've been barebacking for the last 6 months is HIV positive.
If you wish to place music to such painful and unwelcoming thoughts the likes of "The Leveling" or "Physical Universe Distorts" should do nicely given how they fail to reach even first gear in their allotted time, yet describing "Unveiled", "Submerged Metropolis", "The Tesla Effect" or pretty much any other moment in the 59 of "V" as positive in comparison would be taking optimism a little too far. Beyond the mere crawling speed creating much of the gloom in which Unearthly Trance lie is their use of ambient atmospherics and noise-generating feedback which help move the band away from the classic doom template and into the realms of sludge and in the process, a more typical Relapse Records sound. It is harsh, it is abrasive and sure as hell it ain't pretty and I bet the band are delighted with such an assessment.
Naturally building up momentum at such a crawl is difficult, yet doable, as Abandon realised on their monumental "The Dead End" last year but like most in this league Unearthly Trance don't quite possess the je nous se qua to get away so comfortably with being outpaced by tectonic plates. Yet, though, "V" is emotional and wretched enough to hold it's own in the classes of doom and adds to the growing collective weight of Unearthly Trance's crushing discography.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
In which Brooklyn’s veteran filth hounds Unearthly Trance continue in their efforts to provide a soundtrack for the inevitable collapsing of worlds into shrieking pyres of dust and static. Where the band’s two previous records, 2006’s 'The Trident' and 2008’s 'Electrocution', largely shook off the drone of their early work in favor of a snarling, stomping Celtic-Frosty death groove, 'V' is somewhat of a retrenchment, a retreat to sparser landscapes and fuzzed howls reeling their way to an unreachable horizon. The hungry listener, therefore, will find nothing quite so immediately digestible as 'Electrocution''s metronome-disregarding “God Is A Beast.” More times than not, though, the hungry listener is kind of an asshole, and needs to be put squarely in his place, which 'V' will do with more than a little relish. The album’s first track drops in out of nowhere, as though the song had been playing since ages before time, and someone just now thought to kick the shit out of some ‘record’ button. It feels a bit like stumbling into the middle of a perpetually-occurring ritual. A dreaded incantation sounds; the hooded assembly kneels, supplicant.
Throughout the album’s hour-long invocation, the band leans heavily on the trudging, drone-inflected doom featured in songs like “Submerged Metropolis,” largely forsaking the righteous hate-gallop of the previous two outings. Speaking of “Submerged Metropolis,” Unearthly Trance’s ability to pen wonderfully evocative song titles continues apace here, with “Sleeping While They Feast” and “The Horsemen Arrive in the Night” particularly bringing to mind horrid visions dancing on the hazed periphery of consciousness, glimpsed only in ragged-breath nightmare. “The Tesla Effect” is among the more straightforward offerings, with its drunkenly swerving swing beat, while “Solar Eye” features a bended, droning riff that gives the song a wonderfully elastic, almost buoyant feeling. Quite an achievement for a band so relentlessly focused on grime and abjection, no? The two-part “Adversaries Mask” is maybe the most intriguing bit of sonic uneasiness, with the first part a generally subdued affair which flirts throughout with creeping menace, Ryan Lipynsky sounding at times like Nick Cave tripping headlong into the occult. The second part drapes some guts-deep snarling from drummer Darren Verni in all manner of hellish frequency manipulation and feedback, coming across like radio transmissions from a world torn apart by electromagnetic storms.
Rather than evoking the typical clutching panic of soot-encrusted doom through a dense, claustrophobic production and style of songwriting, the majority of 'V' proceeds (and succeeds) by injecting the spaces between notes and phrases with the sort of clenched-jaw tension that ends up producing much the same effect. Witness the closing sections of “Solar Eye” for an apt demonstration of this ritualistic technique. Depending on your mood and/or eschatological inclination, the album’s closing track “The Leveling” either fizzles out disappointingly or heralds the advent of a slow-burning wave of technological destruction.
All of this is to say, essentially, that 'V' is an out-and-out doom record, which may leave some listeners (this one included) initially slack-jawed and befuddled. Upon reflection, it seems that Lipynsky may have exorcised some of his more up-tempo and aggressive demons with the Howling Wind’s excellent 'Into the Cryosphere' earlier this year. 'V', therefore, is a patient album, which is often music critic code for “It’s boring but I think I should like it anyway”; in this case, however, this patience is that of a gradually-unfurling apocalyptic vision, or a prehistoric predator crawling through untold eons to loose its fetid breath on your neck. Meaning nothing so grand as “ignore at your peril,” but rather, “listen, or don’t – the time that remains, remains either way.” Your vision clouds, solar winds carry a whispered message of absent light and inevitable crumbling. This music waits, and watches, and breathes out a long, low sigh. Static.
Overall rating: 80%. Doom, or don’t, but you will be doomed.
(Note: Originally published at http://spinaltapdance.wordpress.com/)