hile Thelemic trio Unearthly Trance is patient, disciplined; indifferent to genre constraint, tag or trend, those writing about—and usually around—the band have struggled with banal fundamentals, thinking description and analysis is satisfied with the utilization of tedious terms, labels loosed so often that their product codes have been confused, washed away in meaninglessness. The band has endured its fair share of Doom Metal branding, even as its sound sprints steadily—and consistently—clear of the aforementioned label cage. Instead of settling comfortably within one sonic camp, Unearthly Trance has constructed a new musical language; beginning with foundational nouns and verbs, accumulating adjectives and prepositional color over the first two full-lengths; addressing syntax in slow determined motion.
Each record has built on the other, creating a remarkably plastic grammar that liberates more than it constrains: using technique as weapon, sonic science as scythe—an able blade in the face of overgrown preconception. Season of Séance, Science of Silence was low-end ritual, war-hammered skins, bashed brass, roiling baritone sustain, anguished vocal shrieks that rose like serpents from earthy holes; Doric drum fills that crumbled in columns of dust; static remnants dancing in funnel clouds of unstable electricity. Season laid the foundation; with the basement’s cold ‘crete poured there was no place to go but up; In the Red burned from both ends, erecting the home from the most sanguine—and symbolic—of the quattro elementi: fire. Lust, luminosity, divine, and phenomenal inspiration, In the Red maintained Season’s gravity and added swift feet, celebrating dirge and sprint alike; folding the raucousness of early Venom and Motörhead in with powerful imagery; lyrics larded with sign and symbol, magical portent that the unfamiliar need not fuck with. Season and In the Red established the system; The Trident unifies the whole, fully formed and functioning to extraordinary effect, laying sign, sound and meaning at the feet of the listener with songs that perforate silence, driving relentlessly through changes; string, skin, metal, and voice heated through, wrought white-hot, snuffed in a sizzle by water.
There’s more melody than ever before, with guitarist/vocalist Ryan Lipynsky working tonal clusters into small brush fires, burning beneath the rhythm section of bassist Jay Newman and drummer Darren Verni, a dual assault that trudges and tromps, threshes and thrashes—mechanistic, martial, engorged, and quick. Each song brandishes a different musical trope, a different symbol; they notably reoccur, crashing in foams of loaded nouns: Sea, water—saltwater—ice, hail, fire, air, and aether; bones and stones; green, golden, white and scarlet; cadaver and corpse, salesman and coward; Aiwass and Horus; law, justice; numbers—threes, fives, sixes, and sevens.
Past interviews showed Lipynsky reluctant to delineate his relationship to the occult, choosing instead to let the totality—music, message, imagery, and lyrics—tell the tale from its own throat. The tale isn’t so much told as it is screamed: The Trident is heavy on Crowlean thematic, especially Liber AL vel Legis – The Book of the Law—Crowley’s centerpiece to the theo-philosophical system, Thelema, a transliteration of the Ionic Greek noun of the same name connoting “will.” According to Thelema, one’s sole reason for existence is not only knowing, but also acting on one’s will: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”
Interspersed through Crowlean imagery is the trident figure, a symbol sewn through innumerable mythologies, notably Greek and Hindi. Lord Shiva takes up the trident, a three-pronged implement standing for will, action and knowledge. Poseidon, son of Kronos and Rhea, set the sea in motion with his trident, often causing seaside destruction in the throes of wrath. Homer thought of Poseidon as dual natured, at once feral and bold, and also the embodiment of the unconscious and its potential yield: more often than not a tempestuous eruption of unbridled emotion. The band refuses to eschew the entire picture, also decorating the cover with tendrils of serpents rolling around the trident’s three tines, presumably a nod to Poseidon’s conquest: Medusa, a once desirable maiden, her shoulders drenched in thick black braids was raped by Poseidon in the Temple of Athena; outraged with Poseidon’s action, Athena turned Medusa’s tresses to snakes, also resigning those that returned her gaze to an eternal sculptural repose, frozen in stone.
All of these symbolic bits and pieces are brought together with remarkable ease. Song and sign carefully crash into one another; by the record’s midpoint, the listener is privy to an aural take on the oceanic: “Scarlet”—a nod to Crowley’s “magikal” whore—begins as declaration of intent and ends in the sonic sound-tracking of the sea itself. Lipynsky, Newman and Verni with muscle, electricity, and breath invert the Melvins’ notion of sound-as-sonic-water-torture inherent in the epic “Eye Flys,” pushing the limitations of instrumentation; letting their shortcomings wash over them in a measured salty spray. Antithetical to the seafaring dirge of “Scarlet” is “You Get What You Want,” a brutal take on the logical merging of hardcore and metal. As In the Red climaxed in cacophony, so does The Trident, surrounding hate-heavy vocals with white-noise skree, all laid over a pit of martial rhythm, each fill ripping through the din, hammering bruises into the body of a piece reluctant to quit respiring.
To grow as a trio, the members of Unearthly Trance had to grow individually, sometimes in tandem: Lipynsky took his occult obsessions to their logical end with now defunct Ambient Metal duo, Thralldom; coupled with Newman in “Ouija noize” duo, Abandoner, and did his own damage with one-off sonic terrorist outfit, Torch of the 555th Order. These disparate groups have not only provided necessary outlets, they’ve also enabled Unearthly Trance to be the sole beneficiary of healthy experimentalism. Results are stark, as The Trident stands not only as the trio’s best record yet, but also as one of the greatest efforts of this young year. Highly recommended.