Review: Titan To Tachyons ‘Vonals’

An intriguing ensemble helmed by the singular guitarist Sally Gates (formerly of space death mongers Orbweaver) and joined here on their second album by the legendary Trevor Dunn on bass, Titan To Tachyons position themselves somewhere on a line between metal instrumentation and jazz composition that’s been hinted at before by other artists over the years, but in a matter that has often lent more in one direction than the other. Very few have combined the two musical threads into a wholly other individual thing, but Titan To Tachyons seemed to have done that on their debut Cactides a few years back and they’ve honed the mix even more so on Vonals. With one foot in each camp, it lunches off on a voyage far from both.

Titan To Tachyons 'Vonals'

Spidery guitar lines kick off as Neutron Wrangler initiates proceedings, and it’s immediately clear this isn’t going to be an easy or instant listen. Over the course of the six tracks, Titan To Tachyons focus not on the frantic riffing you might expect from the players involved. While some here have worked with John Zorn, for example, this doesn’t go for the breakneck intensity of Naked City or Insurrection. What seems like chaos at first reveals itself to be a tightly controlled series of mood swings and atmospheric changes, textures that range from the swirling to the sputtering.

Each track twists and turns throughout, but often has a section, or two… or three, that catches you unaware and anchors you. Vacuum Symmetry reaches a section of ambient swelling chords that is absolutely mesmerising while Close The Valve And Wait sounds like cosmic debris floating through space in all directions. While a lot of bands in metal are rediscovering sci-fi themes of late, Titan To Tachyons are the only band remotely connected to the genre I can think of whose music genuinely evokes a truly extra-terrestrial feeling. It’s often languidly paced, and while the guitar is heavily effected much of the time, it seems rarely distorted. Songs evolve almost surreptitiously, often feeling more like they’re expanding and contracting at their own rate, rather than the usual build-up/release format.

Each track twists and turns throughout, but often has a section, or two… or three, that catches you unaware and anchors you…

Blue Thought Particles feels the most like some of the work of Gates‘ previous band, although more so had they embraced their progressive side fully over their death metal tendencies, particularly in its opening moments and dying breaths. While Gates is undoubtedly front and centre throughout, the duelling mid and low end of bass VI player Matt Hollenberg and the aforementioned Mr. Dunn almost meld seamlessly into the music, stretching into so many different places over the ever-shifting drums of the great Kenny Grohowski. It’s untethered music – that’s not to say that it’s chaotic, though it may seem so on first listen – it’s music that is constantly moving, like some floating cosmic entity slowly unfurling tentacles in multiple directions.

Vonals requires an effort from the listener, and certainly, those coming at this with more of a metal ear, might be altogether disappointed at first if they aren’t willing to sit with the songs for repeated listens. There is, frankly, a lot of detail within the songs at any given time. Impressively, for such complex music, the foursome pull off an act of unity within the sound that is crucial to it working; at no point does it feel like any one player is showing off, or playing over the others, resulting in an album that could have potentially sounded fragmented and overly busy, instead it feels dextrous and cinematic.

Vonals has the overtone of an album inspired by space in an area of zero gravity and potential exploration, rather than any clichés about alien life or battles beyond the stars, and it’s as fantastic a musical voyage as you could ask for. A very modern music of the spheres.

Label: Tzadik Records
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Jamie Grimes