I have given the new Genghis Tron album a few listens and am very impressed. I was initially cautious as the band had been banging on about being more melodic and, though that is fine in itself, I found the practicality of such a transformation detrimental to many bands who tried it. Not so much because those were bad albums per se, but because they sounded more like works in progress, with wanting to commit to a new sound while being careful not to alienate the existing fan-base. Neurosis, Isis, Dillinger: you know who you are.
As I lack a Hitchcockian penchant for suspense, I shall now mention that I needn’t have worried. There is more melody here, but it doesn’t come at the expense of either heaviness or quality. Indeed, this record is all about varying degrees of dynamics, rather than the binary quiet/loud, electro/grindcore that admittedly fit the intentionally cold-technological Dead Mountain Mouth; making that album actually seem rather limited, like Pantera’s Great Southern Trendkill did to Far Beyond Driven in 1996.
The album opens with a boldly chiming electronic melody, contrasting greatly with the almost apologetic electronic tones the band had used previously; while the effect is rather similar to the brash intro of ravesploitation warriors Captain Ahab’s excellent After the Rain My Heart Still Dreams set, the overall aesthetic is an almost innocent, Perrey-Kingsley/Plone one. See, not only are the band varying between rock melody and thrashiness, but between the dark grindcore grooves and sunny-(d)light synth tones. Exciting!
The ‘Tron are also branching out in terms of personnel on this album. Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato guests on one song but, rather like ex-DEP screamer Dimitri Minakakis’s contribution to the latter band’s ‘Fix Your Face’, the invited vocal timbre is blink-and-miss-it. Not like the time Phil Anselmo guested on that Vision Of Disorder track, with his power-extreme vocal noise terror injecting a dose of steroids into the mix, both Greg and Tron’s own Mookie are reduced to the status of living ghosts in Genghis’s electro-grind metal music machine.
This chat about vocals and dynamics brings me to what sadly irks me about the record (and also the last Pig Destroyer one, but we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it): the screaming vocals are all well and visceral, but they render unintelligible some really rather poignant lyrics, another dynamic facet that adds depth only for those with a lyrics sheet. The titles tip you off (‘Things Don’t Look Good’, ‘I Won’t Come Back Alive’, ‘Colony Collapse’), but there is a sadness in Mookie’s words that contrasts with both the metal aggression and vibrant electro-melody.
I mean it: as J.R. Hayes lends Pig Destroyer an entire extra level of depth with his demented poetry, so too does Mookie send his band into the third dimension; are all the gleaming musical structures and visions of an aural future merely façade, the smiling face while the entity that is Tron cries inside? There is, after all, a lot of fear described at the very beginning of the record:
The streets have gone dark
They’ve been dark for days
We board up the house
Hide upstairs and wait
And as the album goes on, there is plenty of chat about humanity’s Promethean nature (‘We cast our roots deep / The grid extends its reach’), relationships doomed to failure ( ‘We’re strangers / Pulling stolen reigns (sic) / I’m not proud / We’re staging an ugly fable’), all musings on endings. Relationships ending, the world being exhausted, life coming to an end. So much so, in fact, that pretty much every song ends with negative lines:
’…No one comes / And the boards stay up’
’…Flames will walk the Earth / And nothing will change’
’…You’ll come to fear / Each day / Each night’
’…Our veins run dry / Don’t stop / This can’t get much worse’
The one song whose lyric ends relatively optimistically (in the Oldboy sense) is ‘Relief’, which is entirely anomalous in the context of Board up the House. An epic which is housed on its own disc (it fills a side, while the fourth side is an etching), its all-breathing-space, mantra-filled hypno-core runs in complete contrast to the hyperspeed ravings of the rest of the record. And it’s fantastic for it. Most of this type of album has that one song where you hope/wish the band will follow that path. It was ‘Crawl Back in’ for Neurosis, ‘’Mouth of Ghosts’ for DEP, Botch’s ‘Afghamistam’… maybe the Tron will space out on the next album, and really send us into a groove for its entirety. It’d be nice. Named as a ‘relief’ from the blizzard of fire that was disc 1 (presumably), the words end with ’If we’re broke / It’s the right time / All will be forgotten / All will be well’.
It’s a tad nihilistic when one looks at the rest of the lyric (sample lines: We knew the water’d rise / Felt the ground subside’), but it is a relief to at least know Mookie’s protagonists are finally at peace with their end, after all the despairing and fretting. And, perhaps more importantly, I’m at peace with their end, very satisfied with what was probably my most eagerly awaited new record of 2008. Is it their best? Who knows; by the time I decide, their next opus will likely have arrived.