Genghis Tron
Photo: Courtesy of Relapse Records

Genghis Tron Contemplate the End of Human Life on ‘Dream Weapon’

Genghis Tron turn 180 degrees from their metal past for one of the most breathtaking re-inventions in heavy music history on Dream Weapon.

Dream Weapon
Genghis Tron
26 March 2021

When Genghis Tron co-founders Hamilton Jordan, Michael Sochynsky, and Mookie Singerman came together at Vassar College in 2004, they intended to create a “literal combination” of Brutal Truth/Cryptopsy-styled extreme metal with cutting-edge electronic music in the vein of Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. To their credit, Genghis Tron achieved that initial vision with a flourish. And they weren’t subtle about it. On their 2005 debut EP Cloak of Love and the two full-lengths that followed, 2006’s Dead Mountain Mouth and 2008’s Board Up the House, the trio reveled in the incongruity of their influences. Much like their contemporaries in groups like The Dillinger Escape Plan, Tera Melos, and The Locust, Genghis Tron aimed for maximum sensory bombardment—incrementally allowing for more repetition and dynamics as their sound evolved, but overall staying true to the overstimulated mindset of the era.

Then the group, weary from touring, decided to take a break in 2010. The break was supposed to last for a year at most. As it turns out, it took eight years before keyboardist/drum programmer Sochynsky and guitarist/drum programmer Jordan finally committed themselves to working on the material that would eventually become their third and latest album Dream Weapon. To put in perspective just how long Genghis Tron had dropped out of sight, the band announced their hiatus on MySpace—a relic of an era that feels like a lifetime ago. Indeed, for purveyors of niche metal subgenres, twelve and a half years between albums might as well be an eternity. Countless trends have come and gone during that span, so it’s only reasonable to expect that Genghis Tron would need to adapt to find a foothold in today’s landscape. 

Of course, we always hope that bands will come back with their musical spirit untarnished by time, which typically brings wrinkles and hair loss with it. Not to mention that musical connections are, by nature, difficult to revive after long periods of dormancy. Metal bands, in particular, take a huge risk when they transition away from playing metal. If we’re honest, few ever manage to come up with a new sound that’s compelling enough for fans to feel like they got something in return for the band dialing down its edge. Genghis Tron, however, have done far more than merely try to keep pace with either trends or their legacy. With Dream Weapon, Genghis Tron don’t so much transition as achieve transcendence of everything they once were. And the change is so fully realized that it renders notions of genre loyalism utterly moot.

A radical re-invention in almost every respect, Dream Weapon will no doubt stun the band’s existing fanbase. Imagine the chest-bursting scene in the film Alien, only with the script flipped so that you’re picturing an irresistibly beautiful life form hatching from the body of a hideous (albeit very cool-looking) monster. You’ve come close to the way Dream Weapon grew out of seeds the band first planted in “Relief”, the final track on Board Up the House. With “Relief”, Genghis Tron introduced two key elements that form the new album’s foundation: trance-like repetition and a lyrical outlook that looks ahead to the eventual end of human life. Other than that, Jordan and Sochynsky’s penchant for interlocking three-note melody lines might be the single strand of Genghis Tron’s DNA that remains intact.

Gone are the blast beats, the epileptic musical changes, and the screaming. Oceanic layers of synthesizer now supplant the harshness so central to the band’s previous identity. With up to 50 different synth tracks going at once, the music stretches out to the horizon, both endlessly wide and bottomless. In the past, it was as if Genghis Tron were attempting to summon the fury of a hurricane on the end of a microchip. With Dream Weapon, the group create tidal swells that crest to an incredible height before crashing down with huge splashes of drama. Sections of album closer “Great Mother”, for example, give the listener the sensation of being lashed about by a violent offshore storm, the kind that took place on earth during pre-human epochs where the climate was far more volatile than it is now.

On the title track, which is based on a riff that Jordan came up with during the same period as Board Up the House, the band even points back to its old brand of spastic aggression, but the awareness and command of dynamics reach a level the band had never touched in the past. For all the power Genghis Tron unleash on these new songs, they sustain an almost exultant level of patience—a sharp, 180-degree turn from the audacity and gusto of previous work.

As Sochynsky explained in a recent interview, this time they wanted listeners to “get lost in where the song is going, [to] feel like you’re in a groove with the music but not even realizing that the groove has changed or that the song has evolved, so you’re in the same place but you’re somehow in a different place as the song progresses.” Genghis Tron achieve this goal and then some with Dream Weapon, an album that engrosses so thoroughly you often don’t notice how much movement and depth the songs contain.

If Boards of Canada had incorporated a strong, dextrous backbeat, with less emphasis on ambience and more weight on chord progressions that build to sublime climaxes, they might have sounded something like Dream Weapon. Then again, there’s an intangible quality about this music that can’t be attributed to its outward characteristics. Genghis Tron aren’t even trying to re-invent the wheel here—as far as tones go, the synth/drums duo Zombi have been making music that sounds like this (for the same label, no less) since Genghis Tron started. Aesthetically, Dream Weapon wouldn’t have sounded out of place at all had it been released in 2008, the same year as Board Up the House

But it’s a mistake to focus on style here—a mistake the album makes it easy to avoid by satisfying the ear so thoroughly. Where Dream Weapon recalls elements of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn, Depeche Mode’s Music for the Masses, Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile, and God Lives Underwater’s Life in the So-Called Space Age, it’s clear that Genghis Tron aren’t playing those influences for retro-cool points. Time travel and genre revivalism aren’t the goals here. Listeners looking for that kind of surface-level thrill will realize right away that songcraft and instrumental interplay occupy center stage throughout this album. That’s remarkable when you consider the musicians hardly met in person when writing and recording their parts.

As synth-dominant as Dream Weapon is, it has a distinctly organic composition, with a living, breathing pulse that never abates thanks in no small part to the band’s new members, drummer Nick Yacyshyn and vocalist Tony Wolski—both recommended by returning producer, Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou. Yacyshyn, initially reluctant because he wasn’t interested in playing blast beats just for the sake of being extreme, arguably gets to flex even more of his agility than he does in his work with Sumac and Baptists. Meanwhile, though original vocalist Mookie Singerman was privy to the ideas Jordan and Sochynsky began trading in 2018, his decision to bow out left the band with the opportunity to seek a vocalist who could more closely align with the spacious, wide-angle vibe of their new material.

Wolski, who has played drums with the Detroit-based outfits Old Gods and The Armed, as well as directed videos for Converge, The Armed, and Protomartyr, opens the door to a world of sonic possibility that simply wasn’t conceivable within the parameters of Genghis Tron’s old sound. Jordan and Sochynsky weren’t trying to conjure an apocalyptic vision of the future with Dream Weapon. Much of the album, Jordan recently explained, is steeped in acceptance. Rather than dread, the music is meant to instill appreciation. “What we called home / frees itself from our harm,” Wolski sings on “Alone in the Heart of the Light”. Not only does his richly melodic, ghost-like approach fit the mood like a glove, but his performance is crucial to the quantum leap the band takes. Even fans of Ballou, a hardcore legend who has produced countless heavy acts, can come to Dream Weapon in hopes of hearing something they would never have expected from him.

Melancholy yet strangely life-affirming—and loaded with details that reward repeat listens—Dream Weapon ranks up there among the most breathtaking transformations in the history of heavy music. The rare band that comes back with something to show for its absence, Genghis Tron have made the ultimate statement on creative growth. Typically, we don’t prefer that artists go on indefinite hiatus but, alas, Dream Weapon was more than worth the wait.

RATING 10 / 10