Ouroboros is a fitting title for the latest and final release by Brooklyn, NY’s Unearthly Trance – the term centers on the idea of ‘primordial unity’, or that which has existed in or persisted from the beginning with such force it cannot be extinguished; and while not a true ‘new album’ by strict definition, it’s over 120 minutes of rare vinyl splits and unreleased material – 19 tracks digitized, remastered, and packaged as a 2-disc posthumous gift for fans that crave one last piece of the band’s legacy.
Ryan Lipynski’s (guitars/vocals/noise) lyrical and thematic emphasis on occult practices (primarily the Law of Thelema) has given the band an air of mystique and decided intellectualism – the cerebral edge to their gruesomely bleak double-edged sword. While most of the group’s later releases (2008’s Electrocution and swansong V) benefitted from studio polish and professional tweaking (thanks to Minsk mainman Sanford Parker), the DIY spirit has always been the band’s driving force and perhaps the most primitive interpretation of Thelema’s notion of True Will and man’s ultimate control of his destiny.
This collection of tracks, in particular, gives you a taste of the group both at its most refined and raw – Disc 1 opener Sabbath Of Spirals (2009) is immediately familiar in its crushing start-stop dirge, atonal melodics, and slower tempos characteristic of the band’s V-era material – an album in itself considered a relative throwback to the sludgier days of the Season Of Séance, Science Of Silence sessions; but the maturity, experimentation, and overall better songwriting that marks the cyclical evolution of the band has made each successive release more rewarding as they gradually returned to the embryo.
Lipynski and Co. assembled the tracklist to best chart the ‘devolution’ of the band’s sound – material spanning the band’s 12 year career in reverse chronology, with the majority of Disc 1 comprised of tracks from 2007 onward. So naturally, cuts like Veins, Oceans Expand, and Branches Of Antigravity with their mixture of plodding brutality, deftly crafted grooves, and textured discord seem like more progressive extensions of the band’s final 3 albums – but just as important to Unearthly Trance’s history is the blackened hardcore influence of classic bands like Celtic Frost and Darkthrone; the first few minutes of Blind Driving Through The Ghost Mountains relies on hardcore’s faster, more aggressive tempos as an introductory framework for nearly 10 minutes of extended atmospherics – imagine a more drawn out take on Scarlet (from 2006’s The Trident) without the sheen of commercial production and ideal recording conditions. But despite the natural flow of the full double disc experience (in fact Disc 1 plays like a complete album of consistently stellar material), as Disc 2 reaches farther into the vault, it’s a more varied affair in style and production quality – songs like Absolute Silver and Pyre shovel deep and bludgeon with primitive charm and barebones appeal, but ironically, some of the group’s earliest material (2003’s Summoning The Beast) included sounds more relevant today in the setting of Serpentine Path’s nouveau slant on 90s death metal.
Even some covers of classic tunes make a cameo; Roky Erickson’s Night Of The Vampire and Black Flag’s In My Head are among the most notable – even Charles Manson gets a segment of time (People Say I’m No Good); but the selection makes sense in the larger context of the group’s vision – Greg Ginn’s fusion of slick licks and shameless atonality, Erickson’s gothic wails, and Manson’s (underrated) ear for haunting melody; each touches on a critical component of the band’s sound, making the old adage ‘tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are’ particularly apropos.
The group’s adaptation and incorporation of the unicursal hexagram as part of their symbology and core ethos is a reflection of their belief in the interrelatedness of all things – macro and microcosm, ‘as above, so below’ – influences are more than just riff ideas and springboards for new material; it’s the progression of artistry and celebrating the spirit of the craft. Ryan Lipynski is one of the few remaining visionaries who understands that nuance. And while worldwide acclaim is typically not the reward, the band can rest easy knowing they have the respect of a generation of heavy rock enthusiasts and that they too have inspired – consider it another chapter closed and the beginning of a new era…welcome to the next life.
Scribed by: Jeremy Moore