Slift is one of those bands that is hard to pin down, as while they write sprawling music that pulls a lot from psychedelic and space rock there’s a lot more to their sound than the norm. Their third full-length Ilion takes the foundation established by 2020’s Ummon and pushes outwards even further, embracing heavier and dense moments that lean towards doom and sludge while also letting the hazier and calmer atmospheric moments to flourish. It’s a fairly dense and lengthy effort at an hour and nineteen minutes, demanding the listener experience much of Ilion in one shot as the songs transition fluidly into each other. But those who are looking for something that captures both the hazy and heavy side of the psychedelic rock world will find that Slift has achieved something special here, giving plenty of reasons to dive back into the vast and expansive sound to discover what lies beneath.
An album of this length is always a bit daunting when it comes to reviewing, as it demands significantly more time investment to get a feel for and there’s always the risk that a band has pushed things too far to the point of tedium. But the first time through Ilion made it clear Slift’s latest was worth the investment, as there are quite a few immediate hooks alongside nuances that pop out with additional listens. At the core of Slift’s sound is a familiar blend of space and psychedelic rock, with lush soundscapes and the occasional guitar freakout that recalls everything from Pink Floyd to Nebula and Hawkwind. But the title track makes it clear that there’s a bit more at play throughout Ilion, as the guitar, bass, and drums reach some weightier peaks and head into doom/sludge leaning territory. At certain points the lumbering nature and spacey melodies remind me of a cross between Melvins and Zoroaster, but the way the songs ebb and flow also gives off a post rock vibe as they reach crashing peaks. Each track has its own identifiable elements, with some giving space for softer melodies and a calmer atmosphere to expand outwards for several minutes, while others keep things on the heavy and destructive side of the spectrum for much of the run-time. It sometimes comes off like you’re hearing the musical equivalent of a spaceship taking off, with the big booming passages serving as the rocket propulsion and then the softer moments represent what can be seen out of the ship once it’s in orbit. It’s a mesmerizing listen, and despite the longest tracks reaching the double digit mark the various twists and turns give listeners plenty of reasons to keep pressing onwards to hear what’s next. Ilion does have a consistent flow, as it tends to follow a pattern where one song fades out and the other comes roaring back in. But the likes of “The Words That Have Never Been Heard”, “Weavers’ Weft”, and “Uruk” also stand on their own with just how strong they are. “Weavers’ Weft” in particular strikes the best balance of lumbering, huge doom type riffs and shimmering psychedelic melodies that are given just the right amount of time to hypnotize you. Admittedly the only song I’m not crazy about is closer “Into the Loop”, which is a moodier instrumental track that leans a bit more into the drone side of things. It’s not bad, but it feels unnecessary after the huge guitar freakout climax of “The Story That Has Never Been Told”.
Another area that differentiates Slift is their vocal performance. If you think space rock, you’re probably thinking of light, airier singing that hovers over the recording or the gruffer Monster Magnet type approach. Slift offers a little bit of both, and there’s quite a bit of variety to the performance that makes different passages jump out at you as you spend more time with the material. The title track begins with commanding spoken word that seems to tower over the recording, but it transitions over to screaming/yelling that gives off a sludge/doom vibe circa the mid to late 2000s. This gives Ilion the potential to appeal to the metal side of the aisle, as they have that heft and aggressive edge that not all bands in this genre do. On “Weavers’ Weft”, there are also some resemblances to Melvins’ King Buzzo. But you also get plenty on the other side of the spectrum, with “The Story That Has Never Been Told” offering some of the softest, ethereal sounding pitches on Ilion. There are just as many details to the vocal work to discover as the instrumentation, and that makes Slift’s latest even more exciting.
With each album Slift has pushed further into their own territory, and Ilion may just be their strongest statement yet. Their songwriting utilizes the sweeping build-ups of post rock, the adventurous and hazier nature of psychedelic and space rock and injects a significant dose of heaviness to make things sound just a bit different from the norm. The songwriting actually justifies the longer run-time, and while it is a lot to take in the effort to do so will reward you with an expansive and mesmerizing listen. It's still early in the year but expect to keep hearing about this one as the months progress. Ilion is available from Sub Pop Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg