(This is Andy Synn’s review of the new album by the California band Ion, which is now available on Bandcamp.)
To say that I have been anticipating the release of this particular album would be a rather glaring understatement. The band’s self-titled debut was so good that I declared it to be my number one album of 2014, and while things have been relatively quiet for the Californian triptych since then (barring a series of irregular live appearances), its manifold metallic delights have remained in steady rotation ever since.
You can therefore possibly imagine my shock to find that their sophomore album, A Path Unknown, was released suddenly and without fanfare on Bandcamp yesterday.
For those of you unfamiliar with the group, Ion deal in a form of progressive, stream-of-consciousness Black Metal which merges visceral fury and immersive ambience in a manner that should appeal equally to fans of the feverish ferocity of Krallice, the psychedelic soundscapes of Orannsi Pazuzu, and the wandering atmosphere of Wolves In The Throne Room.
Confusingly-titled opener “I, II, VI” is an imposing monolith of slow-burning ambience and incendiary intensity which could (and perhaps should) have been issued entirely as a separate stand-alone entity, building from an extended opening of hallucinatory harmonies and riveting rhythms into a veritable inferno of scorching riffs and chaotic, barely-controlled drums, interspersed here and there with lengthy passages of mesmerising melodic moodscapes, and topped off with a psychic melange of raw, howling vocals and warped, effects-laden embellishments.
At just under thirty-one minutes in length, it’s a track that both demands and rewards patience in equal measure, yet which also seems to fly by in less than half the time, making it both instantly replayable and a serious danger to your free time.
The downside of opening with such a mammoth, monolithic endeavour as “I, II, VI” is that it inevitably overshadows the rest of the album somewhat, particularly “V”, the song which follows immediately after.
It would be a shame, however, if listeners were to summarily dismiss “V” without giving it a chance, for although it doesn’t scale quite the same monumental heights as its predecessor, it does add some new twists to the band’s established formula, leaning much more heavily on the shimmering atmospherics and soothing melodies than any of their previous material, while also incorporating an unexpected (but surprisingly effective) clean-sung delivery which seems purposefully designed to evoke a certain sense of laconic fatalism.
It’s an interesting experiment, to say the least, and one which may take more time to fully unravel and analyse, existing as it does in the looming shadow of “I, II, VI”.
Third and final track “III, IV” is much easier to get to grips with, however, since it quickly becomes clear that the entire song serves as something of an extended climax for the album as a whole, repeatedly building towards crescendo, only to plateau at a new level of equilibrium, before again beginning to rise towards its apex, ultimately culminating in a dramatic, dynamic finale of heaving, hypnotic riffs, convulsive, crashing drums, and gleaming, cascading melodies.
Obviously it’s going to take some time and effort to fully unpack and digest everything which this album has to offer but, while I may have one or two minor reservations (the kick-drums, for example, do occasionally sound a little thin, particularly at higher velocities), overall I’m happy to say that A Path Unknown is a more than worthy follow-up to the band’s stellar debut, and one which I predict I am going to be losing a lot of time to over the next few months.