It's been way too long since we last got dosed with the pitch-black sonic evil of extreme industrial metallers Psyclon Nine in the form of their 2009 studio album We the Fallen (check out our review here), and after a couple years of silence I feared they might drop off the map completely. They eventually resurfaced for some new live performances, including co-headlining shows with kindred evil spirits Dawn of Ashes, and frontman Nero Bellum contributed guest vocals to DoA's latest album Anathema. At last, Nero and company returned to the studio to tackle the ambitiously epic follow-up Order of the Shadow: Act I. According to an August interview with Nero in ReGen Magazine, this record is intended to be the band's final full-length release – and while that's very sad news to long-time fans like myself, the pure naked insanity bottled in these tracks makes for a suitably apocalyptic finale to a dark and dangerous career.
If you're new to the Psyclon groove, they're kinda tricky to sum up with the usual genre labels, as they tap multiple stylistic veins, including terror EBM, black metal, aggro-tech, and old-school industrial noise. The unifying elements are found in their hypnotic beats and drones, but mostly in Nero's uniquely terrifying vocals, which are often processed through multiple effects to produce a high-pitched, tormented demon cry. While this release embraces many of the band's stylistic signatures, it's still a bit of a departure from its predecessors, adopting a rawer tone and favoring thick, stacked guitars over the ear-biting midrange black metal riffs that characterized We the Fallen and its predecessor Crwn Thy Frnictr. The participation of industrial legend Chris Vrenna is also a key component in the evolution of the P9 sound: not only did he serve as one of the producers on Order of the Shadow, but the bulk of the album was recorded in his own studio.
The band is known for grand, terrifying intros, and the opener "Consecration" doesn't disappoint, serving as a slow-burning fuse that ignites the first full track "Shadows Unveiled," which packs much of the raw, pulsing force of earlier hits like “Parasitic.” The heftier, more organic feel puts you less in the mind of a rampaging demon and more that of a scarred, tormented psyche, which definitely suits the album's thematic shift: the lyrics here are relatively down-to-earth by comparison to the mythical scope of their earlier writing, setting aside Armageddon imagery in favor of scathing attacks on social collapse and cultural decay. The rage-fueled single "Use Once and Destroy," a particularly blistering example of this approach, is also ironically the closest this band will probably get to an approachable hook, and while it's still a dozen times more menacing than most danceable aggro-tech, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it becomes a club hit.
More melodic guitar passages are prominent in the dirty death-march "Suffer Well" and continue through the thrashy, kick-pummeling "Glamour Through Debris," the thunderous industrial behemoth “Remains of Eden II” and the mega-chunky "Afferte Mihi Mortem." The tempo is dialed down for the anthemic "Take My Hand While I Take My Life," which features some clean melodic vocals and touches of acoustic guitar, but the menace and intensity are not diminished in the slightest. While the production is cleaner overall, the band's expansive, chaotic and multi-layered noise experiments are still prominent in chilling atmospheric tracks like "Come and See," “Penance” and “But With a Whimper.” With the final cut "The Saint and the Valentine,” Nero returns to the subdued, ballad-like approach used earlier to excellent effect in “Under the Judas Tree,” closing the album on a surprisingly uplifting note.
Photo by Amber Gregory
If this project is indeed Psyclon Nine's swan song, it's a fitting end to a memorable trilogy that began with Crwn Thy Frnictr and continued successfully through We the Fallen. It adopts the same caustic, destructive sonic design and apocalyptic mood, but channels the rage and violence into a grittier, more organic approach that serves the emotionally raw lyrical themes. For fans of the band it's a bittersweet finale, but well worth experiencing, and it closes the final book of a dark but inviting saga in extreme music history.
Order of the Shadow: Act I is out today on CD and download via Metropolis Records.