Underground respected doom merchants Unearthly Trance are back after a break of a few years with the monumental new banger Stalking the Ghost. From the opening song, “Into the Spiral”, where the New York-based band charge into the fray with the same kind of sense of purpose that made the title track to Neurosis’ ninth album Given to the Rising such a massive opening album cut, to the trippy album-closing song “In the Forests Keep”, it is evident that the time Unearthly Trance members spent since 2010’s V. working on Serpentine Path records and Thralldom stuff also allowed them to meditate on what the next kind of statement should be from a band that is frankly somewhat underappreciated.
On the weekends I often meet at 3:00 am with a bouncer from a different bar than the one I work at, stuffing my face with mozzarella sticks while he tries in vain to find good vegan options at a greasy spoon in the wee hours of the morning. While we bitch about drunks we had to 86 often, we also tend to talk music. Last weekend we were discussing Megadeth’s Grammy win and if that was what “metal” really is now. Despite his favorite band being Baroness, my friend felt they were more of a proggy hard rock band now and that Megadeth’s style of thrash was too dated to warrant a “current” metal nomination. He felt like Gojira was the only band in the category who fairly represented how heavy metal has gotten and that even Black Sabbath should now be considered classic rock instead of metal.
While his points are interesting, I think it is more complicated. Sub-genres in the family tree of metal are as fun to name as all the ex-members of Napalm Death, and all lead back to certain landmarks. Whether you like your doom with a charred style of hardcore attached (Thou) or prefer your stoner rock and sludge with more melodic leaning tendencies these days ala Torche, Lo-Pan or Clutch, all of these bands are still cousins in the theatre of pain, as far removed as they might seem from Mötley Crüe as can be.
Unearthly Trace mine a certain territory between extreme metal and the more traditionally Sabbathian where the vocals are generally harsher, a more torn throat and scorched earth style of doom that vocally might even appeal to some black metal or death metal fans rather than people who prefer their walls of fuzz with a slice of Josh Homme on top. Unearthly Trance also have less of a formal obligation to stick closer to hard rock forms all the time, something they share in common with also heavy as heck but experimental acts who likewise deserve way more love like Ultraphallus and Ufomammut.
Don’t let me imply that Unearthly Trance are always a difficult listen. Most of their history is now on Bandcamp and will keep you thrilled and rocking out for days and days. For some, they will find it just too much of an audio ass-walloping, but most metalheads who like slower stuff will end up worshiping this band if they don’t mind harsher vocals. “Dream State Arsenal” is positively bludgeoning, like the band Saint Vitus on steroids if Godzilla was “singing” after a three-day bender destroying Asia and drinking an ocean of whiskey. It is telling that the band just slotted nicely on a bill between Buzzoven and my psych rocker pals INN:IS.
Unearthly Trance’s appeal is that (like classic NYC band Unsane) they always have sounded dangerous underneath the distortion, not really concerned if they harsh your buzz or remind you the world can be painful. With more extreme acts like Inter Arma or even Deafheaven getting many more eyes on them than bands not named Converge have for the last decade or so, the time is ripe for Unearthly Trance to finally get more of the credit they deserve.
“Famine” is perhaps the highlight of these eight tracks that descend to varied depths, possibly the heaviest song on the record. The quality of the material is so high that despite this song being emotionally fatiguing enough that most bands would put “Famine” last on their record, Unearthly Trance keep you invested for four more six- to nine-minute length beasts AFTER that. Kudos and horns.