Milwaukee’s Sleestak were on an upwards growth trajectory releasing Skylon Express which was the combination of two previously recorded EP in 2010, following up with their 2011 concept album The Fall Of Altrusia, before finally coming to their seemingly stop gap six track EP The Book Of Hours in 2013.
However, the stop was more lasting, and the gap one of seven years, which was a shame because the band created some of the most complete and epic music that encompasses doom, stoner, space rock, psychedelia and had the ability to croon you into a feeling of a warm fuzzy embrace, or rip your face off with power and menace.
Finally they’ve now returned with Aeon…
First off this is an album that sounds fantastic. Recorded between 2019 and 2020 at House of the Rising Sun Studio in Hartford, Wisconsin, Aeon has so many subtle elements contained within that having a deft touch in the studio was necessary. The hammer blows that they exhibited on Fall…still, er fall… but there is a smoother feel to the album, like the whole doom element has been gently restrained and the progressive element dialled up.
Opening with these lush tones and grandiose intentions, Infinite Eternal is awash with Sabbath like riffing polished up on a prog rocket ship and layered with samples of philosophical theory that can be traced back to the works of Aquinas and Plato.
This is a marked return to the stylings of the previous album, the more accessible punch of the EP has taken a backseat as the band throw in flavours of keyboards that makes the track grow and shimmer in an other worldly manner. Its peaceful and soothing until Sleestak remind you that they’ve unbridled power with the heavy smash of the closing passage.
The Void for me is one of the album highlights that’s made to be played on vinyl and listened to on headphones.The warm sound of the guitars, the hum of the bass and the soft drumming patterns create a rich, immersive experience. It’s pure prog and owes a debt to Pink Floyd as Matt Schmitz’s effect tinged vocals gently caress with the sombre refrain of ‘I’ve been waiting for the goddam rain’. This achingly beautiful, yet mournful search for the meaning of life is part stoner rock, part Gary Arce desert rock stirred in a psychedelic soup.
Black Iron Prison – Submerged proves the band haven’t lost their heavy chops. Starting out muted, like sonar echoes on an ocean, the intro is delicate despite Marcus Bartell on drums doing all the work. It’s so seamless and smooth that you almost don’t notice the moment it leaves the ethereal behind and starts with the bludgeoning. One moment you’re basking in the tender glow, the next you’re hearing talk of welding ‘the sword of truth’ as the music dances off into lumbering riffs and deft flurries whilst Matt’s vocals become a growl.
This achingly beautiful, yet mournful search for the meaning of life is part stoner rock, part Gary Arce desert rock stirred in a psychedelic soup…
Over the course of the album Sleestak often play with your emotions. Distant Lights with its tender, stately crooning and delicate progressive melody and keys that still recall the work of the great Ray Manzarek and Out Of Body’s electronic beat, swooping Theremin and platonic talk of the philosopher king create mind expanding moments of enlightenment with just a hint of danger thrown in. As a result, it is a complex, multi-layered album that reveals itself to you slowly over time.
Omelas is built around a picked folk guitar that’s the star of the piece. Female vocals back up the deep baritone and there are elements of drone among the stark, sombre musings.
I have to mention the track Keepers Of The Illusion as a massive stand out in the middle of the album. Undoubtedly my favourite, this has literally everything from choral vocal effects to whispered samples about conspiracy and the stress of modern life. Riding on a great hook laden riff, this track oscillates between light and dark in a manner that I’ve not found executed as well since Opeth perfected the skill on Blackwater Park.
The album closes out with a cover of the Pink Floyd track Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun that manages to get stretched to 3 times the length of the original. I’m not a fan of the Floyd to be honest and as such I find this version to be powerful, mesmerising and interesting in a way I’m supposed to find the original, but don’t. In many ways this reminds me of The Cure covering Jimi Hendrix Purple Haze in terms of sonic delivery and now overtakes the Kylesa version as my new favourite recording of the song.
The time away has seen their focus change and develop sonically. Whilst this has only a vague concept to hang the music on, rather than the extreme niche and specific story of The Fall Of Altruisa, this feels like a complete journey.
It’s an epic length experience that begs you to switch off all external distractions and just listen. It has an ‘old school’ sense of completeness that feels better as a total story. Yes, you could pull a few tracks out and stick them on your (insert digital streaming platform) playlist, but that does a huge disservice to the vision and execution that Sleestak have put into creating Aeon.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden