Reviewed: May 2019
Released: 2019, Century Media Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Super groups too often end up sounding like a mere sum of their various parts. A recent case in point is Vltimas, which features ex-Morbid Angel bassist/vocalist David Vincent, ex-Mayhem guitarist Rune “Blasphemer” Eriksen and Cryptopsy drummer Flo Mounier. The band’s debut album courses with the sort of blackened death metal intensity you’d pretty much figure on from such a pedigree. Good? Sure. Different? Hardly.
But surprisingly, Tronos is full of, well, surprises. The trio, made up of Napalm Death bassist Shane Embury – no stranger to super groups, already having played in like a dozen of them – producer Russ Russell (At The Gates, Dimmu Borgir, Napalm Death), and MVP drummer Dirk Verbeuren (Megadeth, ex-Soilwork, etc.) have all the makings of a grind tour de force, a la Brujeria, Lockup, Venomous Concept, Anaal Nathrakh or Unseen Terror, all of which have involved Embury in one way or another.
The extreme music bona fides of Verbeuren and Russell are unquestioned as well, nor are those of some of the musicians who guest on Tronos’ debut, notably Dan Lilker (Nuclear Assault, S.O.D., Brutal Truth) and Voivod frontman Denis “Snake” Belanger. But Celestial Mechanics, instead, is akin to the work Embury has done with his industrial/electronic-leaning side projects Meathook Seed, Malformed Earthborn or Blood From The Soul, though with a somewhat more conventional edge.
The album opens with the droning “Walk Among The Dead Things,” which lumbers along for a very ungrind-like 8 minutes and is occasionally punctuated by the backing vocals of The Wonder Stuff’s Erica Nockalls, who also provides a smattering of violin here and there. “Judas Cradle” is similarly “epic,” if more fluid and psychedelic, with Belanger providing his signature rasp over the top. The tempo finally picks up with the crusty “The Ancient Deceit” as Verbeuren lets fly and the riffing comes with more velocity.
Celestial largely slingshots back and forth like this throughout, with shorter, punchier songs contrasting the longer slogs, though the tables sometimes turn. The slowest tune here is the sparse, pulsing gloom of “Beyond The Stream of Consciousness,” which is just 3:34, while one of the more rousing numbers is a cover of Black Sabbath’s eclectic “Johnny Blade.” So, again, surprise!
Though Embury swaps his bass for guitar and vocal duties, the bottom end figures prominently on here, with Lilker sharing time with Faith No More’s Billy Gould and Mastodon’s Troy Sanders on a veritable all-star team of bassists. They provide the anchor for the weighty, Killing Joke-like approach that commands the album, with beefy rhythms driving the tunes and the abrasive guitars and subtle atmospherics layered over the top, and plenty of melody interspersed.
The vocals, shared by Embury and Russell, are generally “clean,” though certainly gruff – a la the just mentioned Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman. But with their occasionally moaning delivery, they work well in the context of the tunes here, which can be quite haunting and grim. Even when the music intensifies, or Belanger chimes in, things never get anywhere near as extreme as the locomotive roar that has been a hallmark of much of Embury and Russell’s collective work. And here again, that helps the album work better by defying expectations.
Though it just may be a one-off – given the insanely busy schedules of the participants – Celestial Mechanics is a worthwhile addition to the extensive library of the trio and their guests, demonstrating their reach as musicians and depth as composers – if either were really ever in question.