Following hot on the heels of their 2018 album Continuum, the English instrumental post-rock band Sons of Alpha Centauri (SOAC) have created a second part to the journey which began there, and have done so in a stunning collaboration with industrial metal icon Justin K. Broadrick (Godflesh, Jesu…) and ambient gloom metal maestro James Plotkin (Khanate, Jodis, etc.). The results of these creative unions are relentlessly fascinating, amalgamating a wide range of stylistic ingredients in a way that’s both compulsively head-moving and equally mind-bending. The music has genuinely primal power, yet also transports listeners into an alien cosmos and seemingly spirits us away into haunting realms that we enter at our peril.
This new album, Buried Memories includes two 10-minute monoliths of eclectic ambient progressive rock by SOAC — “Hitmen” and “Warhero“. “Hitmen” was mixed by Broadrick, and the album further includes his interpetive remixes of the track, one in his guise as Jesu and the second as the eponymous JK Flesh. James Plotkin created the mix for the second long SOAC track, “Warhero“, and then the album further includes a third, shorter SOAC track (“Remembrance“) mixed by Plotkin, as well as his remix of “SS Montgomery“, a single from the band’s landmark self-titled debut album.
What we’re presenting today is the premiere of the Jesu remix of “Hitmen“, as well as an impressionistic review of Buried Memories as a whole, in advance of its release on October 13th.
Track-by-track album reviews risk tedium, but the tracks on Buried Memories are so full of sonic wonders and interweave so many changing shades of mood and imagination that it would be difficult to describe or assess them at a higher level. Someone more skilled than I will have to attempt that kind of summing up, and to attempt to place Buried Memories within the context of the previous work by SOAC, Broadrick, and Plotkin, which could justify a separate essay all by itself. What I want to do, and hope it will not produce tedium, is to try to capture how each track resonates on an emotional level, and the visions it has generated in one listener’s mind.
HITMEN [Justin K. Broadrick Mix]
The sequence of the first three songs on the album is a marvel, because ostensibly they are the same song, yet become a journey of changing interpretation through which the music transforms into three distinctive creations.
At the outset of the original version of “Hitmen“, ghostly wails combine with heavy pulsing chords, swelling in volume and abrading intensity. A compulsive thumping rhythm arrives as gleaming guitar sounds spiral and dart. A neck-cracking rock beat pushes the vibrancy of the music in a different direction as chords ring out and shining reverberations drift in cascades that are both eerie and incandescent, and a bit psychedelically trippy too. The instrumentation builds unnerving tension, creates shrouds of gloom, morphs into sinister and cruel vibrations, and provides glimpses of wonder. And so the song is a gigantic head-mover AND a mystifying brain-swirler, an amalgam of primeval groove and unearthly hallucination that proves to be mesmerizing.
HITMEN [Jesu Remix]
In listening to the Jesu remix of “Hitmen“, which we’re premiering just below, you’ll still want to move, but the overall momentum is much slower, and the mood much more dreamlike. Shimmering organ-like chords and the rise and fall of tension-building oscillations slowly ring out over the heavy, grumbling tones of a heaving bass and the measured thud of the drums. The atmosphere is ethereal and wondrous, but edged with a sense of anguish and foreboding, a kind of astral projection in which wraiths appear and disappear. As shining tones slowly appear and disappear themselves, the emotional effect of those simple notes is at once sorrowful and beautiful, un-real yet soulful. The droning thrum of enormous bass tones grounds the music in a feeling of craggy earthiness, but we still feel we’re somewhere out among the vast expanse of stars.
HITMEN [JK Flesh Remix]
The JK Flesh remix of “Hitmen” is yet further proof of just how many different sensations can be brought out from a single composition when placed into the hands of a such an accomplished collaborator. Here, warbling tones, almost like a mutated cello voice, provide the introduction, and gradually become enveloped in sparkling cosmic ambience. When the low rhythmic tones arrive, they have a more mechanical, electro sound and a different beat than before. Bursts of flat, echoing cymbals accent the slow waves of spacey ambience that wash the night sky overhead like a borealis.
Head-hooking chords begin to ring out as the rhythm becomes more vibrant, creating a sense of ebullience. When the rhythmic pulse vanishes, the music pitches us far out into the cosmos again, only to pull us back into the pleasure of movement when the rhythm section returns and locks into an irresistible rocking beat. That feeling of ebullience and mystifying wonder also returns, as do the deep booming pulsations of those machine-like rhythms, but the perilous grasp of the deep void exerts itself once again at the end.
WARHERO [James Plotkin Mix]
The “Hitmen” trio is followed by the three collaborations between SOAC and James Plotkin, beginning with Plotkin’s mix of the second monumental creation of SOAC, “Warhero“. The immediate impression of the music is one of sharp contrast with the initial trio of tracks, but the song evolves in unexpected directions. At first, a light, lilting guitar arpeggio and a catchy bass riff join together, undergirded by a drum rumble and tumble, uniting to create a joyful feeling, though perhaps lined with wistfulness. On the other hand, there’s an almost bluesy styling in the guitar lead that surfaces after the drummer begins to rock.
You don’t really notice that the bass is missing until it arrives again to help wake the hindbrain into greater alertness, and to give the song a dimension of gloomy moodiness at the same time. A fluid, flickering solo seems to counteract the growing darkness of the music, but only briefly, and the progression from there on becomes increasingly crushing and oppressive. The guitar lead that appears again, surrounded by alien ambient shimmer, is still soulful, but now beleaguered and bereft, and quite hard to forget, even surrounded by the kind of pounding rhythms that seem capable of driving you deep into the ground.
“Warhero” premiered earlier this month at Everything Is Noise, and I’ve included that stream here:
REMEMBRANCE [James Plotkin mix]
Although the shortest piece on the album, “Remembrance” still makes a big impact, and a very unsettling one. It’s slow and monumentally heavy, with an utterly doomed atmosphere generated through an emphatically low-frequency dominance, laced with elements of discordance and demented skittering tones that claw at the nerves. Perhaps it’s for the best that the track isn’t longer, because it’s the stuff of nightmares.
SS MONTGOMERY [James Plotkin – Remix]
And to close, James Plotkin puts a distinctive spin on “SS Montgomery” from SOAC’s debut album. Like every other track on the album, it’s a multi-dimensional experience. Weird and disconcerting electronic excretions flash over a catchy little bass riff — and then an explosively potent drum rhythm seizes attention while that uncomfortable electronic skittering seems to find a rhythm of its own. The music brays and moans, chitters like a machine that’s lost its mind, and squalls like a harsh gale, but the bass and drum cadences have a primal force that makes a body want to lurch and stomp, to lose yourself in movement while everything else in the music seems intent on creating a debilitating psychoactive effect. The funky bass groove and the skull-cracking drum strikes are irresistible. Everything else seems like a narcotic/hallucinogenic potion.
This really is a fascinating album, so much so that it’s easy to become rooted in place for the entire trip despite its substantial length. And it’s also the kind of multi-faceted and ever-changing album that seems like a brand new experience each time you hear it. Each time is like the first time.
Buried Memories will be released worldwide by H42Records, in the United States by Robotic Empire, and in Eastern Europe by RobustFellow. It’s available for pre-order now: