Review & Video Premiere: Slomatics, Canyons

Slomatics Canyons

Slomatics, “Mind Fortresses on Theia” official video premiere

[Click play above to stream the video premiere of “Mind Fortresses on Theia” from Slomatics’ Canyons. Album is out June 14 on Black Bow Records.]

2019 marks 15 years since the advent of Northern Irish riffslayers Slomatics, and Canyons finds them charting a new path forward. Their last three albums, 2012’s A Hocht, 2014’s Estron (review here) and 2016’s Future Echo Returns (review here), followed a narrative structure and made for a play in three acts happening over developing sonic depth in such a way that made the last installment truly feel like a conclusion. Released by Black Bow RecordsCanyons follows 2017’s Futurians: Live at Roadburn (review here) — which was something of a victory lap for those three records — and the Belfast three-piece’s 2018 split with Mammoth Weed Wizard BastardTotems (review here). It’s the latter, which was by my estimation the best short release of last year, that would relate closest to what guitarists David Marjury and Chris Couzens and drummer/vocalist/synthesist Marty Harvey are doing with Canyons.

Those familiar with the band will know that their ply and trade is massive tonal heft with Harvey‘s shouted melodic vocals cutting through, atmospheric sampling and whatnot bolstering an otherworldly feel that never really touches on psychedelia in the effects-wash sense of execution, but has plenty of “out there”-ness to it just the same. It’s a sound that was and remains remarkably well suited to a sci-fi thematic, and though they’ve let go of some of that from the narrative arc they ended in 2016, songs like “Cosmic Guilt,” on which the vocals seem to be directly referencing Cathedral in their style, and “Mind Fortresses on Theia” and the 9:28 opener and longest track (immediate points) “Gears of Despair” have that element to them, even as side A finale “Telemachus, My Son” acts as an apparent sequel to “Ulysses, My Father,” which appeared on the band’s 2014 split with Holly Hunt (discussed here) and album-closer “Organic Caverns II” follows up on who knows what. Someone else’s song named “Organic Caverns,” maybe? Because Slomatics don’t have one. So there. Still an air of mystery around them.

Where the “new path” idea comes from is the increased use of synth and melody alongside all that nod and crush. Slomatics aren’t necessarily going prog, at least not any more than they already were, but the balance of elements in their sound is shifting here, so that “Beyond the Canopy” leads off side B with a break into a stretch of quiet guitar before its ultra-slow, deeply-weighted lumber kicks back in, and that even its opening crawl welcomes a melodic lead either of guitar effects or keys before the next verse. The increased melodic base of the vocals is something that comes forward in the midsection of “Gears of Despair,” and there along with the rest of the record, it’s not about Slomatics being less heavy — because, quite simply, they aren’t — but about adding range to that weight and pushing into places they haven’t been before.

They’ll be well recognizable to those who’ve encountered them before, but as the synth-topped interlude “Seven Echoes” provides a bridge between “Cosmic Guilt” and “Telemachus, My Son,” and side B’s mellotron-into-noise-wash “Arms of the Sun” bridges “Beyond the Canopy” and “Mind Fortresses on Theia,” it’s clear that mood has become a different level of concern for Slomatics, and that their songwriting has expanded in order to allow for that. I’ll say again that Slomatics remain a very, very heavy band, and they don’t sound like they’re looking to depart from the core tonality that has driven them toward their best work, but perhaps taking some influence from the aforementioned Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, they move in and out of volume changes with ease, crafting a more dynamic and broader sound that only enhances the densest moments of groove, like the chugging plod that rounds out “Organic Caverns II” at the end of Canyons or the slow-motion stomp and forward roll of “Beyond the Canopy.”

In kind, there is a level of symmetry to Canyons that the linear nature of storytelling couldn’t really allow for on other recent releases; a conversation between the two sides of the eight-song/44-minute release. The most obvious example is that each half of the LP has its interlude in “Seven Echoes” or “Arms of the Sun.” They’re differently placed, but both well positioned to act both as transitions and a hypnotic moment to help put the listener in the world the album is making. Further, “Mind Fortresses on Theia” shares some of “Cosmic Guilt”‘s post-Lee Dorrian vocalizing, and the harsher low-end of “Gears of Despair” seems to find an answer as well in the early going of “Organic Caverns II.” “Beyond the Canopy” might be the most outwardly heavy moment on Canyons, but it still finds room for a cinematic push of synth, and that’s also something “Gears of Despair” introduced. So while the songs may not — or they may; Slomatics were never really clear on just what was happening — tie into the plot of the offerings before it, it works in different ways to have the material relate to itself, and that’s before one considers “Telemachus, My Son” in relation to “Ulysses, My Father.”

The underlying point, I suppose, is that Slomatics have grown to be a more complex band, and that Canyons demonstrates that in multiple facets of its songwriting and arrangement. That kind of thing can garner a mixed response sometimes from a fanbase, but the way they go about it here doesn’t lead one to think they’re going to run into many detractors. Without diving headfirst into hyperbole — though a sound so big could arguably warrant it — theirs is an approach that has it both ways, and they pull it off by adding to the mix rather than taking something away. Canyons are huge, and Slomatics carve out a few here, but what matters most of all is that a decade and a half later, they refuse to be restrained either by their own approach or the outside tenets of genre. They sound like a band writing the songs they want to write, exploring the reaches they want to explore, and as a result of that, their every lurch, push or wash is more resonant. If that’s to be the narrative they’re working with now, then all the better.

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One Response to “Review & Video Premiere: Slomatics, Canyons

  1. André Fortin says:

    Unlike you, I haven’t heard the album yet, but with this track release it’s seems spot on. Slomatics do their own stuff and they’re not afraid to expand sonically speaking, this is why they are my favorite band. I’m extremely happy that they are putting Marty’s voice more and more in the forefront! I can’t wait to hear it all ???

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