Ben Chasny once said that his idea of rock music tends to be extreme—a fact that should come as little surprise to those indoctrinated in his intense heavy psych excursions with Comets on Fire or the knotty riffs that drive his work in the trio Rangda. Yet in spite of the six-string power Chasny wields in his various other projects, his primary vehicle Six Organs of Admittance is less of a “rock” outlet in any easily identifiable manner. More freak than folk, the constantly evolving project is a proxy for Chasny’s own personal musical explorations, frequently unpredictable and always in pursuit of a kind of melodic freedom that feels euphoric even at its most discordant.
The Veiled Sea isn’t the first of Chasny’s albums to draw heavily from psychedelic rock’s cosmic inferno—2015’s Hexadic found Six Organs of Admittance’s guitars at their noisiest, and prior outings such as 2006’s The Sun Awakens found Chasny embarking on a cacophonous spiritual raga. Where The Veiled Sea departs from Six Organs of Admittance’s prior arc and seeks yet another new kind of extreme is in the figures Chasny sought for inspiration. Where once he invoked the spirits of Gary Higgins, Eddie Hazel and John Fahey—whose shadows continue to loom in less obvious ways—Chasny has moved forward a few decades to the ‘80s, channeling the fuzzbox majesty of shredders like Billy Idol sideman Steve Stevens and Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Randy Rhoads.
Chasny doesn’t emulate these guitarists so much as infuse their essence into compositions that remain connected to a great psychedelic continuum. “All That They Left You” rides the Crazy Train into a supremely weird nether realm, albeit one that still decidedly whips ass. A beefy synth bassline and minimalist drum-machine pulse back Chasny’s heavily distorted fretboard conjurations and vocoder incantations, the song’s robotic krautrock backing providing a pop-friendly backing for what otherwise amounts to one of his greatest freakouts. I certainly don’t remember the ‘80s sounding like this, but Chasny’s alternate-reality version of it is a fascinating detour.
There’s a balance and contrast to The Veiled Sea that finds even Chasny’s scratchiest and noisiest guitar trances juxtaposed against space and serenity, often in the same track. Its two shortest tracks, “Local Clocks” and “Old Dawn,” present rare moments of guitar-free atmosphere, Chasny instead delivering percussive sound collage and breathtaking piano meditation, respectively. But on the album’s two longest songs, he explores a tension between the kinds of extremes that represent either boundary of his most compelling works. The nine-minute “Somewhere in the Hexagon of Saturn” finds Chasny’s guitar crashing against a sparse, progressive electronic backing, like an increasingly violent tide. “Last Station, Veiled Sea” presents a permutation of that same idea but extended a minute longer and pared back to a gloomier and more meditative drone, Chasny’s own serene vocals offering a moment of grace amid two sides worth of yin-and-yang sound clash.
It’s only in the closing cover of Faust’s “J’ai Mal Aux Dents” where Chasny returns to something like the hard-rock overdrive of “All That They Left You,” though once again his approach takes a different form. Where the song itself comprises seven and a half minutes of strums, scrapes, chants and pulses, his own guitar remains relatively muted here, only occasionally competing with the absurdist ritual that envelops it. It’s an unusually simple, if still bonkers, highlight of the album, the road to which is paved with various combinations and formulae shuffling the ratio of transcendent guitar skronk to repetition and hypnosis. It’s not an obvious exercise in extremes, but the boundaries and borderlines keep shifting all the same.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.