[Artwork by Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos]
There are few bands in the history of humanity that can change crucial members and move forward seamlessly. The group becomes even more narrow when the member being spoken of is the vocalist. How many bands in history have been able to transition from the progressive rock of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis to the pop proficiency of Phil Collins-era Genesis? The answer is very, very few bands. Even bands that move on attempting to replace their signature voice without writing new music are few. There are very few bands who have been able to tour successfully using Adam Lambert in place of Freddie Mercury. In fact, there’s only one: Queen.
To say The Deathtrip is on the level of Queen or Genesis would clearly be blasphemy of the highest regard. Yet they are a band graced with a luxury very few bands have. In their case they began with Kvohst, moved on to record with Aldrahn and then moved back to Kvohst. They have done so relatively seamlessly. Both are extremely talented vocalists able to handle a theatric, wide array of styles and all without stepping on the toes of Groundwell’s compositional efforts. But there is something special about Aldrahn. Something unique to his neurochemistry that makes him the ideal guide for the types of spiritual descents that The Deathtrip employ. But, in the immortal words of Navin R. Johnson’s butler, “one can’t mourn forever.”
The composition skills of Groundwell are unmistakable. Broad arpeggios are furiously sawed with anxious bends at their melodic peaks. The result is an off-balance, jarring melody that seems as frantic as the drums beneath it. “Abraxas Mirrors” most clearly exemplifies this characteristic style. Groundwell rips through harmonized arpeggios in alternating modes. This nearly geometric style of composition inhibits resolution keeping the uncertain uneasiness plowing forward as adrenaline is pumped into the veins of the track.
In that way the compositions are not unlike late 1960’s-era John Coltrane. By using similar (often identical) melodic patterns across modes set at conflicting intervals the tracks forge ahead always building and leap-frogging on the prior section’s restlessness. It’s a model used to perfection in the album’s closing track “Awaiting a New Maker.” Darkthrone-inspired riffs buzz and crackle across each other constantly bumping up the chromatic scale forcing misgiving into the neural cortex of the track. Background vocals scream and collapse like a slide whistle played by a deliriously evil clown. The product is an album that concludes without giving the listener any relaxation or rest. It’s a practice in anxiety–a claustrophobic experience carefully built using music theory not often found in the world of metal.
At forty-five minutes of run time Demon Solar Totem is their longest work by merely a few minutes. That said, the album feels longer than Deep Drone Master mostly due to the balanced pacing across the seven tracks. “Vintage Telepathy” is an altogether morose track spanning across more than eight minutes of pragmatically moderate drumming. Again, the vocals stroll into clean, choir territory more than once. The resultant choir lends a style akin to Virus and the untouchable vocals of Czral (clearly an influence for both Aldrahn and Kvohst) thus strengthening the Dødheimsgard connection.
On Demon Solar Totem (deeeeeeeemon… soooooooooooolar… toooooooooootem) The Deathtrip take another step forward in the career of their collective. While Kvohst is a superbly talented vocalist there is something about Aldrahn’s personality, his ability to throw his mental turbulence into the performance that made prior efforts, in particular Deep Drone Master, more cohesive in their pleasant instability. Nonetheless, the sophomore LP is a welcome effort and a welcome addition to the canon of avant-garde Norwegian black metal. It’s an album that will feel off-kilter in a friendly manner. Kind of like a cow being gently squeezed for comfort before the moment of slaughter.