Review: Sons Of Alpha Centauri ‘Continuum’ & ‘Buried Dreams’
Describing a band as a ‘best kept secret’ is a touch patronising. However when I get taxed to recommend music to people that would surprise or challenge them, there’s a mischievous part of me that likes to throw out Kent’s Sons Of Alpha Centauri because I know the likelihood of the person asking won’t have heard of them and will genuinely be taken back by how good they are.
I know this because that was me ten years ago, making my writing debut for The Sleeping Shaman when I reviewed their collaboration with the most underappreciated of writers Fatso Jetson/Yawning Man’s Gary Arce. I know my Desert Rock man, I was into Kyuss literally five minutes before they split up, I own Fu Manchu records, know what Chris Goss’ band is called, so I knew who Gary Arce was, but Yawning Sons, a collaboration with a band called Sons Of Alpha Centauri? Who the…?
Fast forward to the present day and I have reviewed that album twice, still play my burnt orange vinyl copy of the Ceremony To The Sunset reissue and only recently impressed a lady friend by suggesting them with pleasing results.
So thanks Sons Of Alpha Centauri, you are officially cool with me.
Getting back to the plot and this year sees the release of Buried Memories, given that this is only their third full length release since their inception back in 2001, it’s something of triumph to have them back releasing music free of (admittedly great) collaborations.
Even more notable is that the second album, Continuum was only released last year.
Due to The Sleeping Shaman being on hiatus, this landmark achievement needs to be acknowledged as Continuum and Buried Memories form part of the same journey. They need to be placed alongside each other to give context, and over the course of this review, I will try to piece the two together and look at them objectively as individual listens.
Sons Of Alpha Centauri ‘Continuum’
What began as their sophomore album was torn up and abandoned in favour of the Yawning Sons project with the legendary Gary Arce. Since then they’ve collaborated with US instrumentalists Karma To Burn and Treasure Cat, but last year, just over a decade removed from their critically received debut, Sons Of Alpha Centauri finally came back with their long awaited follow up, Continuum. A lofty concept album that tells of a space bound journey, or at least that’s the story it painted in my head, inspired by the song titles.
The album starts with Into The Abyss, the slow teasing notes rising into synth augmented guitar and bass that rumbles like a beast awaking from a slumber. This is obviously quite fitting from a band whose absence has been this long. The tension builds before Jupiter’s riff laden fuzz kicks in picking up from the fading electronic sounds. Here Sons Of Alpha Centauri use the guitar parts like a voice and its mellow strip down moments allow the music to ebb and flow, ushering in an almost orchestral like arrangement, which subtly changes as the song progresses.
Solar System itself has a more urgent guitar sound and the bass powerfully grinds underneath the surface. This conjures a heavy jam like vibe with tumbling drums that fit the underlying story of a space rocket journey. You can imagine the thrusters kicking in as it pushes further into outer space.
By contrast Io balances the Space Rock feel with more focused guitar and in your mind you can see the secondary rockets falling away before Surfacing For Air brings the still silence of space with its Vangelis like beginning. This diverse series of tracks paints a picture in a way that only the SOAC can connect with.
Sons Of Alpha Centauri embrace a darker direction to their work that’s managed to evolve their sound from their debut, whilst retaining the core of what made them such a unique band in the first place…
This interstellar journey continues with the aptly named Interstellar; the creeping notes and Theremin conjures the isolation of outer space itself and there is a stillness, calm, and beauty to the piano arrangements that pepper Orbiting Jupiter.
Return Voyage is the final piece of the puzzle. An apt title as the calls backs on this 11-minute track picks up on the motifs from the earlier works, and evokes the feeling of the violence of re-entry.
Sons Of Alpha Centauri capture magic on Continuum that is somehow far greater than the concept of an instrumental band. Here they tell a story without words through emotive beautiful music that stands shoulder to shoulder with their earlier releases, be that the smooth the desert rock of Yawning Sons or their own eponymous debut album all those years ago. Continuum may have been 10 years in the making, but over that time the band members have not slouched in their drive to perfect their craft and you get the sense that even though we’ve not heard from them, this has not dented their ability to get together, jam and plan how to carve great emotive works of music.
Captured expertly by ISIS stalwart Aaron Harris who produced, mixed and engineered the album, Sons Of Alpha Centauri embrace a darker direction to their work that’s managed to evolve their sound from their debut, whilst retaining the core of what made them such a unique band in the first place.
Sons Of Alpha Centauri ‘Buried Memories’
Onto 2019, Buried Memories picks up on the feel of Continuum’s journey into space by combining their talents with some heavyweight names; Justin K Broadrick (Godflesh, Jesu, JK Flesh) on Hitmen and James Plotkin (Khanate, Scorn) on Warhero and Remembrance. Featuring a mere three original songs, they’ve been reworked by their collaborators to produce an album spanning six individual tracks (including a remix of SS Montgomery from their debut) that still manages to run the full spectrum of what they produce for their art by creating an epic length release.
Broadrick works here with several of his alter egos and he mixes the opening track as himself. Just shy of 10 minutes, Hitmen (Justin K. Broadrick Mix) is a pulsing, moody track that sees Sons Of Alpha Centauri drag their sound into even darker territories, no doubt egged on by the master of the dark psyche. The track slowly brings all the instruments into play one by one, building on the crystal clear production to produce a choppy, spiky, abrasive track that’s gritty in contrast to the lighter moments of Continuum’s airy space rock and hopeful exploration.
That said it’s not without charm as the melodic guitar parts wander all over the track, creating dazzling and sometimes uplifting moments. It then breaks after five minutes and the feedback gives way to a grinding downward spiral that unveils some of the heaviest work they’ve done. The end passage is an almost Vol 4 Black Sabbath collision of chunky riffs and crashing percussion.
The second take is in the form of a Jesu Remix and here, like this version of its creator, Hitmen is a moody, ambient slow building affair that moves with a glacial grace and creeping sense of entropy. It feels weighty despite the seemingly light touches that are brought to it. Intense feelings of stumbling and searching through a mournful wasteland are invoked and at times, the bleak isolation and fragility is crushing and suffocating.
A far cry from the taught and powerful opening version, this sees the song in a vulnerable light that showcases the skill of Broadrick to find this vision with the skill and dexterity of the music to lend itself to it.
The final version of Hitmen is seen through the lens of JK Flesh, Broadrick’s industrial, techno influenced electronica. As expected in comparison to Jesu’s bleak expanse, this is a more focused refined sound, heavy on the industrial and the cold, bleak atmosphere that the genre has mined all these years.
Here the guitars scythe through the synths in a similar manner to Burton C Bell’s City Of Fire covering The Cult’s epic Rain. The atmosphere is intense and stripped back, powerful and yet disturbingly passive, twisting the original track further from its roots and sending it reeling into some futuristic nightmare William Gibson style version of itself.
It would be fair to say that no version of Hitmen sounds the same on Buried Memories. In fact, so epic is the journey Hitmen takes you on, it’s probably possible to make a screenplay of some dystopian world eroded by technology just from the feel and themes of these three very different offerings.
It would be fair to say that no version of Hitmen sounds the same on Buried Memories. In fact, so epic is the journey Hitmen takes you on, it’s probably possible to make a screenplay of some dystopian world eroded by technology…
After this workout James Plotkin mixed Warhero is immediately softer and harks back to the Indie Shoegaze that served as my entry point to the band, and has more in common with the Yawning Sons project than Hitmen. Here the Sons use familiar tricks of cycling themes that interplay, keeping the music interesting, as they take key moments, twist, and change them acting like microcosmic choruses. Similar to the original incarnation of Hitmen, this track gives way to a huge heavy passage towards the end, highlighting the darker, moodier voice that surrounds Buried Memories.
Remembrance however is massively dark from the outset, and again for want of a better reference, feels like the self-titled Black Sabbath track with its ringing notes, acres of space between moments and a towering menacing intent. This is without a shadow of a doubt the darkest thing SOAC have produced and Plotkin’s powerful production lends it the weight it so rightly deserves as he guides them into almost full Doom territory. The fuzz reaches a massive crescendo that is almost like an old projector burning through the film as Remembrance breaks under the strain.
The final piece of the puzzle is Plotkin’s remix of SS Montgomery (23 from their debut, which was numbered in Karma To Burn style mystery). Here electronica, in keeping with the rest of the album, is scatter shot across the subtle riffing and picked guitar. The quiet, introspective nature of the mellow parts of the track have been distorted and warped in vision, like the glitch in The Matrix that makes Neo double take at the cat deja vu. As one of the heavier tracks from their maiden recording, this new take compliments the dark feel and displays the ability to pick a long-term arch in the progression of their music.
The 2019 version of 23 has been morphed into a huge industrial monster that harbours stuff of nightmares, skitters, and crawls like a bug on your brain, laying the groundwork for intriguing questions about where Sons Of Alpha Centauri go from here.
In addition to the luscious layers of complexity delivered sonically on these two albums, the presentation in the physical form is also a joy to behold.
Continuum comes packaged in a moody gatefold sleeve with almost Soviet style military images and a glossy inlay with gorgeous attention to detail. In addition to the 180-gram see through green vinyl, the album has a CD copy and a download code. You certainly can’t say you aren’t getting your money’s worth with this complete package.
Buried Memories follows similar suit with its dark fascist evoking imagery. Also a gatefold set but this time with heavyweight gold coloured vinyl, it helps augment the joined nature of the two albums and ties them thematically together across the distance of time.
Sons Of Alpha Centauri continue their evolution; here they find themselves locked into a spiral of darkness. Whether the next release, whenever they decide to grace us with its presence, pulls them out and takes them off in another journey which is a mystery known only to them, but it will be a journey worth joining them for and until that time they have delivered a double helping of some of their best material to date.
Label: H42 Records
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Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden