If you’re not familiar with musician, author, and antiquarian Julian Cope, then you’re really missing out. Cope’s eccentric musical pursuits have been many and varied, and his utterly untamed and often unhinged writing on underground music has introduced me to a mountain of fantastic bands over the years. Case in point: UK drone duo Slomo.
Cope once wrote of the band:
“If the doom metal of Khanate is the ideal soundtrack to the 21st Century Odinists’ hanging upon the tree of Yggdrasil, then the vegetal music of Slomo is the unfolding, nurturing, ever-becoming ur-ooze that titanically irrigates the roots of that sacred tree. Slomo restores our timeless beginnings and fulfils the Ginnungagap… motherfuckers.”
That’s Cope in full rock ’n’ roll druid mode, casting literary incantations. But as far-out as Cope’s depiction of Slomo is, it’s still entirely accurate.
Slomo do make mythic music. And their glacially paced songs slither their way deep into your subconscious like age-old tales. Slomo’s dramatic debut, The Creep, did that. And so did the equally bewitching follow-up albums The Bog and The Grain. All of those releases combined subterranean, sinister, and sublime sounds. And all of those releases wrapped dark ambient atmospherics around chasmic drones while also offering views of the heavens above.
Slomo’s latest album, Transits, also explores the cosmos via arcane musical rites. In fact, this time round, Slomo membersHoly McGrail and Howard Marsden seem intent on travelling even further out into the unknowable gulf between the stars. Transits is unquestionably the band’s most celestial release yet: shimmering in parts where Slomo’s previous releases might well have exploited shadow. But Transits still features plenty of cavernous frequencies. And, as always, Slomo’s lengthy songs increase both their sonic and psychological weight as they slowly unfurl.
Sunn O))) guitarist Stephen O’Malley once referred to Slomo’s music as, “a culty piece of oozing metastain.” Others, in turn, have suggested that Slomo could almost be, “a British, rural, Sunn O))).” And there’s truth in both those statements.
Slomo are certainly a cult band; both sound wise and aesthetically. And their slow-motion drones certainly exude an esoteric air. Slomo aren’t as metal as Sunn O))), but they do create heavy, immersive, and monolithic soundscapes. And there’s definitely a taste of rural and even eldritch darkness in Slomo’s songwriting.
On the band’s previous albums, ancient omens, gloomy moors, and fevered rituals held in shady hollows all made an appearance. But Transits adds more lysergic and cosmic ingredients into that mix. (Think The Wicker Man fooling around with 2001: A Space Odyssey at an acid-fuelled audio orgy.) There’s as much murky menace as there is psychedelic delirium and galaxy gazing on Transits, and the album’s both darkly mesmerising and blissful as a result. Slomo explore that gamut of sounds and emotions with loops, guitars, and synths on three long-form tracks with their own unique angles of approach.
Album opener, the 25-minute-plus “Concerning the Explorers”, begins with a vast galaxy illuminated overhead. Then, around halfway through, more ominous sonic gloom starts to colour that spacious expanse — adding an unsettling undercurrent to a vast and often scintillating drone.
Track two, “Super-Individual”, brings crushing gravity like the fathomless depths of a collapsing star. Immense, doom-laden waves of sound and sci-fi static intensify as the disconcerting drone crawls forward. Then, at its heaviest, “Super-Individual” transforms to let the light shine brighter for the last few minutes of the lengthy, spellbinding track.
Final track, the 21-minute “The Dialectic”, is infused with radiance and starts with shimmering synth nestled in a cosmic cradle. Bassier tones and subtler feedback begin to gnaw at the edges of the “The Dialectic” as it heads towards the end, and that brings an almost subliminally unnerving element to a beautifully hypnotic and otherworldly song.
No question, there is an interstellar scale to Transits. Visions of transiting colossal celestial bodies and boundless astronomical excursions are all there. But all of Transits’ songs also return to something more intimate and primal in the end. It feels as if Slomo aren’t just illuminating the awe we hold for what lies overhead, but also highlighting the fear of what lies within. Either way, Transits resonates deeply with both emotional states, and the album’s deep-space and inner-space voyaging offers manifold rewards.
Drone fans… set the controls for the heart the sun.
Ps: If you’ve not sampled Julian Cope’s writing before, there’s no better place to start than his hugely entertaining collection, Copendium: A Guide to the Musical Underground. Hell, you could even read my review of the book, if you had a few extra moments.