Review: Psyclon Nine ‘Less To Heaven’

By their own admission, Psyclon Nine are not for the faint hearted. Formed in California in 2000, the band is the brainchild of lead vocalist, lyricist, and multi-instrumentalist Nero Bellum who remains as the band’s only original member. Having guided them through six previous studio albums that have sought to incorporate gothic and darkwave atmospherics and biting industrial meets black metal fury.

Psyclon Nine 'Less To Heaven'

Frequently dallying with controversy, Bellum has endured personal tragedy and drug addiction over the course of Psyclon Nine’s history which, despite support slots on high-profile tours, seemingly derailed momentum at what has felt like crucial times and burnt plenty of bridges.

Thankfully free of the demons of the past, he has spent the last few years getting back to what he does best, which is producing abrasive, challenging music that is instantly recognisable. Having teamed up with former Shotgun Messiah/Marilyn Manson instrumentalist Tim Sköld for the side project Not My God, the two have played together on Sköld’s ventures and in turn, he has lent his considerable skills to the latest album, Less Than Heaven.

Hard hitting and uncomfortable, the seventh album from the band is nine visceral tracks that are designed to fuck with your subconscious and create a tense, edgy atmosphere. I often play the music that I am reviewing in the background whilst I am working in order to let it seep in, but I had to abandon that process with Less Than Heaven as it is seemingly designed to reach inside your brain and flip switches that make it hard to ignore or just let wash over you, rendering concentration on multi-tasking impossible.

The opening instrumental of Blood In charts a movement from beautiful, tender piano and swirling atmospherics that are sombre and almost soothing, but as the three-and-a-half-minute run time creeps slowly, additional sounds are added, including a pounding industrial thump and jittery synth replacing the piano; you can literally feel the tightness crushing your chest as the guitars start to build.

After the sinister echoes of ‘You’ve got the blade against your throat’ and a brief pause, the band don’t go for the punch immediately. Instead See You In Hell is awash with dub beats and Bellum’s whispering, low drawl in your ear is like a growing nightmare; uneasy, multiple voices fill your head like you’re trapped in a claustrophobic space as the blackened choke rises and screams at you. Slow paced and understated as it sounds, the effect is immediate and harsh, like the sinister slow drip, drip of corrupting evil as the chorus informs you ‘there is no god’.

The unsettling vibes continue on the lead single Money And Sex And Death as the dark booms and claps usher in more twisted whispering, like the devil on your shoulder telling the ills of the world, before the track absolutely explodes into schizophrenic black metal screams and jackhammer rhythms. As it progresses, the dynamics pull in all directions, drowning you in the slow vibrations before wrenching right back into a snarling, feral maelstrom. This track showcases Psyclon Nine at their twisted peak and sandblasts doubters who might think they have lost their edge.

This violent, scathing album spits its disgust and weeps for the punishment dealt out through anger and frustration…

The Poison Will Deaden The Pain takes a moment to decide which way they will toy with your emotions as it’s built around a faster, darkwave synth echo that gets wrenched left and right by machine gun rapid stuttering, leaving you reeling like a concussion victim, such is the disorientating nature.

Walking the line between techno, post-punk, and even throwing nods to the metal scene, Less Than Heaven is complex and cinematic. By his own admission, Bellum has found inspiration in the current climate of the world, faced with the unparallel abandon that society appears to be hurtling toward its worse elements, captured 24/7 in HD, broadcast on social media platforms to expose the ugliness that humanity has to offer, Psyclon Nine’s response has not been to offer up sentiments of ‘be kind’, but instead to gleefully take a scalpel to the wounds and shine a light on the darkness underneath.

The disco like trance that starts Off With Their Head reflects this narratively. Like the older cousin of Nine Inch Nails Closer, this doesn’t want to fuck you like an animal, it wants to party bacchanalia like on the graves of what has gone before, showing that they can do catchy if they want to. In the hottest nightclub in Hell, this would be an instant floor filler.

This energy continues with X’s On Her Eyes, shifting from an almost childlike gothic lullaby to a mosh pit, inducing another slamming chorus and the muted ballad of Catastrophic proves that beneath the savagery there is an ebbing soul slipping away and embracing the descent.

As the album nears a close with the introspective instrumental Après Moi, Le Déluge, the atmosphere hangs heavy and the feeling of tension is unbearable, like waiting for a storm to break, and when it finally does with the searching Blood Out, Bellum intones the plaintive ‘It’s getting harder to hide the emptiness inside’ and ‘I don’t know a single thing that won’t hurt you and won’t kill me’. Psyclon Nine sign off exhausted from the emotional journey leaving the ringing refrain haunting the listener.

Despite the muted ending, Less Than Heaven is a powerful album, one that twists and writhes like a caged animal and shows great ability to juggle aesthetics and toy with themes that can evoke dream like calm and paranoid psychosis that speaks to the troubled mind of its creators. This violent, scathing album spits its disgust and weeps for the punishment dealt out through anger and frustration.

After everything Bellum has been through, his ability to carve out compelling, dark industrial has not diminished and this release is a testament to that.

Label: Metropolis Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden