By Karen A. Mann. New York’s Unearthly Trance have been crafting earth-crushing sludge with a strange, darkly magical quality since 2000. Over the course of several releases, they’ve moved from a blackened sound to one that’s doomier, more psychedelic and experimental. Their latest Relapse releaseBy Karen A. Mann.
|Cover art by Orion Landau.|
New York’s Unearthly Trance have been crafting earth-crushing sludge with a strange, darkly magical quality since 2000. Over the course of several releases, they’ve moved from a blackened sound to one that’s doomier, more psychedelic and experimental. Their latest Relapse release, Stalking the Ghost, sees them at their most expansive and diverse. Through eight songs, they cover a lot of ground, from pounding heavy rock to crushing, murky doom to droning noise, all with occasional clean vocals and guitar cutting through the ominous layers.
The album opens with “Into the Spiral,” a straight-ahead, sludgy rocker that seems pretty cut-and-dried, until the song suddenly slows down, with the vocals shouted in like a call from outer space. That unexpected quality is what makes Unearthly Trance such a compelling listen. Just as you’re riding along with a song and think you know where it’s going, the journey suddenly becomes weirder. Not only are you no longer on the same road, you’re not even in the same universe.
This quality is best embodied by three successive songs in the middle of the album. The first is “Scythe,” which begins crushingly, with majestic, classically doomy guitars, and ominous, shimmering cymbals.
“Famine” is cold and crushing, with singer/guitarist Ryan Lipynsky’s death-rattle vocals rumbling under layers of noise. The song veers into clean, minimalism before swirling into a discordant, repetitive riff. An unexpected soaring solo rises, phoenix-like, out of the murk.
Finally, “Lion Strength” showcases the band’s more psychedelic side with a swirling, trance-like melody and ominous vocals that sound as if they’re being yelled from far away, ominous, before the song floods back in with a wallop.
It should be noted that all three members of Unearthly Trance, along with Tim Bagshaw of Ramesses/Electric Wizard/With the Dead, also comprise Serpentine Path, which veers more toward English horror doom than psychedelic sludge. “The Great Cauldron,” with its plodding, angry riffing, is the song is the song where the connection between both bands can best be heard.
Stalking the Ghost truly goes out on a limb with the final song, “In the Forests Keep,” which begins quietly, reverby clean guitars and a foreboding, extended melody as droning noise wells up behind it. As the noise becoming more insistent, a voice, sounding as if it’s being transmitted from outer space, recites the ominous lyrics before the song fades away. It’s an unexpected, and yet appropriate, finale to the album.