Unearthly Trance’s latest T-shirt design sets Rodney Dangerfield’s face against the void. The comic’s mouth is pursed, his goggle eyes burst wide, his message unchanged: no respect. The tee may as well be bundled with the band’s fifth and latest full-length, the appropriately titled V. “This was an in-joke that became real, with [bassist] Jay [Newman] insisting we make it into a T-shirt,” says guitarist/vocalist Ryan Lipynsky, who adds that the design is also, paradoxically, meant to convey respect: “We talk shit, but we’re appreciative of people that have stayed with us through 10 years. Only the music matters. It’s about total artistic tunnel vision.”
The band began conservatively, with the “doom” genre’s bedrock. The Hadit demo featured grotto howling, a water-torture rhythm section, and a lyrical immersion in the Crowleyan occult world. From note one, Lipynsky stunted Tony Iommi’s approach—rendered it plastic. Black Sabbath and Master of Reality riffs long noted for their economy are reprised, overloaded, and left writhing in space. But the New York trio surpassed even that fathoms-deep sound with their first full-length, Season of Séance, Science of Silence, an outer-reaches exploration that pushed the genre’s compositional limits. Songs stretched to nine minutes plus, their glue less and less evident as bass, drums, and guitar collided in narcotic somnolence.
And then the scope narrowed. Follow-ups In the Red, The Trident, and Electrocution saw, for the most part, Trance dispensing with large canvas pieces and miniaturizing once-epic elements into five-minute onslaughts. Results were stark. A lingering flirtation with hardcore and thrash remained; already riff-driven, the music increasingly aligned itself with the Melvins’ early works. V, at once celebrating both the band’s sharpening focus and early bombast, marries the two, resulting in their most definitive record yet.
Yes, the heft of the early stuff is back, but these songs slowly reveal themselves as bare-bones “rock” tunes, and are no less confounding for it. Their tension is matched only by their looseness, their willingness to disintegrate into chaos; Lipynsky’s riffs, and the martial rhythm section that propels them, sound too big to fail. “We’ve returned to focusing on certain ‘time-elastic’ parts of our songs, where things sound like they’re sinking,” the guitarist explains. “We wanted to fully immerse ourselves in the muck. This is our way of saying, ‘There is no running away.’ Gauntlet’s laid down: ‘OK, here’s a doom album,’ even though I use that term loosely.”
Lipynsky accesses doom from its bluesy backdoor (Willie Dixon/Howlin’ Wolf via Tony Iommi/Jimmy Page) and Southern-rock ghetto (Skynyrd, ZZ Top). But in lieu of Sabbath’s swing, Trance substitute something even more appropriate: swagger. That roar remains, but it’s now powered by a flash of Page’s fuzzed-out slide guitar. V‘s “Into the Chasm” combines the whole package, invoking the unruly sludge of Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil, among, of course, others. “When I wrote that, I referred to a section of it as ‘the ZZ Top riff,’ ” Lipynsky explains. “I’m all about this: I’m a huge fan of bluesy music. We exorcised a lot of demons on this record. We have lots of ideas for the future. We’ll only get more creative and focused from here. V is a record we had to get out of our system for exactly the right reasons.”
“We thought a lot about what the core sound of Unearthly Trance is,” Newman adds. “On V, we wanted to find a balance of all the recordings we have done. We got it.”