Sub Pop‘s legacy of heavy music is one of lightning marbled in between lo-fi static and indie jangle. The Seattle label made their name early on with foundational grunge albums like Nirvana’s 1989 debut Bleach, itself only a short trudge from the noxious murk of sludge metal—just ask Thou, if you’re not convinced—as well as drone doom innovators Earth. Even as groups such as The Shins and The Postal Service became some of the best-selling artists backed by the black-and-white logo, Sub Pop was branching out into weirder territory with the likes of stoner-psych stormbringers Comets on Fire, while their long-running singles club has featured the likes of Pallbearer, Sumac and Zeal & Ardor in its ongoing sequence. If its controls aren’t set at the heart of metal’s sun itself, it’s in its orbit all the same.
French heavy psych troupe Slift likewise first crossed paths with Sub Pop through the singles club, blasting in from extraterrestrial realms with the badass groove of “Unseen.” That song only provided a fleeting glimpse of the band’s sprawling capabilities, a scant four and a half minute teaser in a catalog where the standard is somewhere a little past twice that. Rooted in the progressive rock intricacy of King Crimson and the space-rock churn of Hawkwind, the band’s sound is both expansive and propelled by burly riffs, less a metal band proper than a mind-bending rock band employing the volume and thunder of metal to maximize the g-forces on their cosmic trip.
Slift’s third album and first to be released through Sub Pop, Ilion, is their strongest and most fully realized set of astral sojourns to date—even if it’s a good three minutes shorter than its predecessor, 2020’s Ummon. Deceptively massive in its sound for being the work of a trio, Ilion filters the influence of Joseph Campbell and Homer’s Odyssey into eight sprawling tracks that waste precious little space in their seemingly limitless expanse. Even as their dirges unfold seemingly unto infinity, the journey’s never less than exhilarating.
There’s as much sinewy groove in Slift’s intricate compositions as there are thick walls of fuzz, sometimes even more so; where the title track kicks off with the bash-everything aggression of vintage …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, its 11 minutes are anchored by Rémi Fossat’s low end, a gravitational constant juxtaposed against Jean Fossat’s squealing guitar leads. Still, there’s plenty of explosive fretwork to go around, whether on the muscular crunch of “Nimh” or the full-throttle intensity of “The Words That Have Never Been Heard.”
That the average song length on Ilion is around nine minutes often means few songs finish their journey in the same galaxy where they began, though in its colossal scope, the album is a labyrinth of fascinating detours and curious diversions. Sometimes they take the form of a saxophone-driven progscape, as on “Confluence,” or sludge-metal incantations on “Weavers’ Weft,” but their path is rarely a straight and narrow one. They’ve got more than enough riffs and chops to pull that off if maximum warp were their M.O., but as with so many of their labelmates past and present, they’re far too interesting for that.
Label: Sub Pop
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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.