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Slift - Ilion CD (album) cover

ILION

Slift

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

4.01 | 23 ratings

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TheEliteExtremophile
3 stars Slift is back after a four-year gap with their new album, Ilion. The band has stated that Ilion can be thought of as a direct sequel to Ummon, their 2020 release. There is a lot of sonic continuity between the two records. Both prominently feature bludgeoning doom metal riffs, crossed with krautrock-like repetition, and interstellar aesthetics. Much like Ummon, Ilion is a challenging listen. It's a nearly-unrelenting onslaught of heavy riffs that cascade effortlessly from your speakers. I saw Slift when they came to Seattle last year, and if they come again, I'm going to go once more. They put on a great show, and I'm sure these cuts will be great additions to their live set.

In many ways, Ilion takes what Ummon did and cranks it up even further. Ummon saw Slift shift from spacey garage rock to a more metallic sound, and that progression has continued here. Not only are doom metal influences present, but post-metal, too. Ummon runs 72 minutes across 11 songs, but Ilion pumps that to 79 minutes across only eight songs (only two of which are under nine minutes, and none of which are below five).

However, it's this aggressive persistence that is probably Ilion's greatest stumbling block. Don't mistake me; I like Ilion overall, and I'll explain why below. I just think that certain aspects of this record see Slift indulging a bit too hard. An average runtime of six-and-a-half minutes per song (as on Ummon) gives you time to stretch out on some tracks, while also providing briefer passages to help the overall flow of the album. When the average song length is just shy of ten minutes, though, that risks things bogging down unless one of two conditions is met: 1) the structuring is careful and dynamic; or 2) you've got one hell of a groove to work with. 

Ilion's 11-minute title track kicks the record off with a buzzing avalanche of space-metal fury. The main riff on this song is one of the album's strongest, and I love how flashy and high in the mix the bass is. Lightly-synthesized vocals add to the sci-fi scene-setting. During instrumental passages, the bass is really what holds my attention; a lot of the guitar work bleeds into the background, even when it is ostensibly the lead instrument. Despite the band's obvious technical skill and my confidence that this would kill in a live setting, "Ilion" sets the trend of everything being just "too much" on this album. The instrumental moments are dragged out for too long, and when things quiet down, the buildup is too drawn-out.

"Nimh" continues organically from "Ilion", and again, I need to point out how great the bass player sounds. The song, though, is sonically quite similar to its predecessor. Having tonal continuity is one thing, but some of the riffs sound a lot like what was on the opener, and the overall structure is quite comparable. When you're working with big compositions, similar structures will be more obvious, since there's less of an expectation to adhere to a typical architecture.

After a short, strange clicking intro, "The Words That Have Never Been" explodes into a metallic maelstrom, but Slift finally switches things up a bit here. Influences from post-rock and classic space rock are evident in this song's less-distorted moments, and those clean-distorted contrasts are a big part of what I loved so much about Ummon. I also get the odd flash of post-hardcore here and there, which is a nice change of pace. The instrumental stuff feels more purposeful on this track than it did on either of the preceding cuts, and the prominence of the bass sounds intentional. Backed with some subtle synth bloops, this calls to mind classic krautrock excursions. Even with all this going for the band, this song probably could have been trimmed down a fair bit and come out stronger for it.

At eight-and-a-half minutes, "Confluence" is the second-shortest song on the album, and its introduction is the mellowest. Electronic burbling, distant saxophone and the odd guitar note swirl (a bit aimlessly) for the first 90 seconds, but it's a nice breather. When the rhythm section comes in, they've got a solid groove going, and the guitar and sax twisting around each other work well together. This all gradually grows in intensity until the midway point, when the band pares things back. There's another (thankfully briefer) build-up to some more soloing, and "Confluence" winds up being one of the least-bloated cuts on Ilion.

"Weaver's Weft" has a spacey introduction, with broad, echoing clean guitar and chanted group vocals. This is contrasted against some of the heaviest, most crushing metal on the album in a powerful way. The first six minutes of this song are pretty strong and some of my favorite stuff on Ilion. The instrumental closing three-and-a-half minutes, though, emblematize some of the issues of this album. It feels aimless and overlong.

"Uruk" has a creepy, unsettling opening that sounds midway between late '60s Pink Floyd and Neurosis. This introduction builds to a churning, rumbling psychedelic doom riff that is one of the best on Ilion. It's hard-hitting, emotive, and distinctive. Unfortunately, this song's second half gets bogged down in repetition that doesn't lead to anything that's worth the wait. On Ummon, repetition was a tool to build tension and anticipation, but on Ilion, it seems to mostly just?repeat.

The longest song on Ilion (by three whole seconds!) is "The Story That Has Never Been Told". In contrast to many other songs here, the opening has a sense of majesty and optimism underpinned with fluttering synthesizer loops. After so much sludginess, this brightness is an appreciated contrast. The verse floats along (perhaps a bit too airily and for a bit too long), but the band does a better job of giving a sense of progression than elsewhere on Ilion. Around seven minutes in, the tempo picks up in an anxious passage, and this sort of frenetic meditation is the kind of repetition I more typically expect from Slift. The climax is powerful and feels earned. It delivers on the promise of glory given in the introduction.

That could have been a good close to Ilion, but no. Instead, the final song is the five-minute slog "Enter the Loop". It's a groaning, industrial dirge that does almost nothing during its runtime. 

Ilion is an exhausting record. So is Ummon, but Ummon is rewarding, at least. There's plenty of good music to be found here, but it requires some sifting and filtering and a tolerance for overindulgence. Crushing doom metal, exhilarating space rock, and tripped out psychedelia can all be found here, but these rewarding moments are embedded in overlong songs and unfocused structures. It's alright, overall, but I'm not sure how often I'll be coming back to it.

Review originally posted here: theeliteextremophile.com/2024/02/12/album-review-slift-ilion/

TheEliteExtremophile | 3/5 |

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