By Ryan Falla
After a seven-year period of sitting on the back-burner, Unearthly Trace finally releases their much anticipated fourth studio album with Relapse Records after signing in 2006. I can tell you right off the bat that this is something you’ll want to listen to, if not outright need to listen to it. Doom/sludge not a genre of metal known for pumping out consistent releases, and releasing a high quality record such as ‘Stalking the Ghost’ when major acts such as Electric Wizard and Sleep don’t come around with new material is key to continued success of the genre.
Bands such as Unearthly Trance are a necessity in a genre that often sees many of the A+ acts re-performing classic material on the regular. When the star acts of your genre live off live shows with once-in-a-blue-moon studio work, it’s important for bands such as Unearthly Trance to breathe fresh air into a genre that makes its money delivering “classics”. While the quality of the music itself is often worthy of consistent re-performance, in the long run a small pool of top tier material is self-destructive for the genre.
Going slightly off track, this seems to be a consequence of heavy stoner metal acts such as Electric Wizard and the like being overlooked during their inception. The stoner/doom scene hit the public eye almost 20 years late; mainstream metal not really picking them up until the late 2000s. This genre (arguably) did not hit a strong stride until after 2010. Because of late attention, stoner metal has the luxury of being able to tour off of their older work, because to the metal public it’s actually kind of new.
The scene for stoner metal has always flown heavily under the radar compared to hardcore (which is finally dying, thank god) and death/black metal which dominated the scene for almost a good decade. This isn’t like classic thrash metal where they had their day, went underground for a while then came out to growing resurgence in the past few years. Stoner metal bands are finally getting their day, and while that’s phenomenal, it doesn’t promote the need to release new material; to the general metal public, ‘Dopethrone’ doesn’t feel like a “classic” despite its release seventeen years ago.
When the forefront of your genre is stuck in a strange limbo of hitting delayed public relevancy and not needing to release new material, it is essential for bands such as Unearthly Trance to keep the sludge river flowing and avoid stagnation. This is why stoner/sludge is so successful despite being in an anomalous position; you have a massive amount of less prominent but still recognized acts such as Stoned Jesus, Bongripper, Bezelbong, and … Unearthly Trance.
‘Stalking the Ghost’ draws you into the world of the occult with malicious riffage and seismic drum work that invites you into the darker realms of the human spirit. This album is dark and unholy. If ‘Stalking the Ghost’ came out during the ’80s trend of calling rock and metal “devil music”, society would hold mass lobotomies in reaction to the existence of this record. Tracks such as album closers ‘The Great Cauldron’ and ‘In the Forests Keep’ envelope you in an atmosphere of hopelessness and doom; the latter track inviting soft and somber dread into your heart.
While ‘Stalking the Ghost’ builds an ever-present atmosphere, Unearthly Trance very rarely falls into the trap of foregoing brutality in favor of atmosphere; though it should be noted that this issue rears its head at a few points in the album without being too detracting. In fact, the leading track ‘Into the Spiral’ comes out of the gate heavy, cementing an extremely strong presence before leading into an atmospheric approach.
‘Dream State Arsenal’ is a beautiful example of forming a heavy atmosphere through monstrous doom-centric riffage alone. The vocal work by Ryan Lipynsky flows with the lower tones of the music as well as any sludge vocalist should, yet his guitar work is what brings a heavy spotlight to this album. Many sludge metal acts approach a similar vision of “doom”, often treading into similar atmospheres. Unearthly Trance goes as far as to not just envision this terror, but invite these spirits of doom and decay into your soul; most notable in the track ‘Scythe’. I feel like I need to restate that once more, only for personal peace of mind that you get the message. The track ‘Scythe’ is unbelievable, the guitar and bass form a bludgeon swung by the drums with a brutality formed not of anger, but of darkness and horror.
Unearthly Trance presents a dark journey through occultism, matching the concept of the album to the musical atmosphere to an almost perfect ratio. This is why you need to pay attention to sludge metal, not because of the obvious big guys like Sleep, but because of what they’ve inspired in bands such as Unearthly Trance.
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Record Label: Relapse
Release Date: February 24th 2017
01. Into The Spiral
02. Dream State Arsenal
05. Lion Strength
06. Invisible Butchery
07. The Great Cauldron
08. In The Forests Keep