Whether you choose to brand Psyclon Nine as industrial, electro-infused black metal or terror EBM, you’ve gotta admit that this is one of the straight-up evilest bands out there. This San Francisco-launched outfit first snagged a cult following on the manic strength of their outlandish behavior (on- and off-stage) and loud, destructive shows, which in the mid-2000s incorporated the guitar elements largely absent from their debut effort Divine Infekt, which was, though very aggressive, still fairly conventional hard-electro fare. The band would later up the guitar ante with follow-up release INRI, after which they reshaped their sound into a decidedly metal mold with the 2006 album Crwn Thy Frnicatr. This techno-metal hybrid has grown into a lurching, unruly and violent monster by their fourth full-length release We The Fallen, which is poised to drill its way into your cranium on Tuesday.
As with any dangerous beast, I first approached with a combination of wariness and fascination – the two feelings this band inspires most – and finally just said the hell with it and let their evil vibrations slam directly into my skull. Read on for the results of this little experiment...
Though not a retread of Crwn Thy Frnicatr, most of the new material definitely stands solidly in the sonic mode established in that album – which is a very good thing, because that’s the sound that keeps this band truly unique among their industrial brethren. The sardonic lyrical style of frontman Nero Bellum – delivered with the electronically mangled death-scream vocals that have become his trademark – has turned its merciless beam inward this time; instead of screeching in frustration against oppressive moral and societal monoliths, these songs focus more on the individual’s innate selfishness and penchant for cruelty, painting the human animal as a terrifying emotional predator. In describing this theme, Bellum alluded to the idea of the “heartworm” as a metaphor for the parasitic nature of love and human relationships in general. As you can probably imagine, it’s not light listening, and will probably induce nightmares… but at least they’re vividly-painted nightmares with beats that will yank your synaptic leads like a car thief hotwiring a BMW.
That’s not to say that Nero and his ever-revolving company of players (new members this time around include keyboardist Vixx and drummer Jon Siren) don’t break with tradition and experiment with new styles, because there is some interesting new ground being explored here. Clean guitars feature occasionally in the mix, as well as some straight melodic rock flourishes that fit surprisingly well – possibly due to the influence of Godhead’s Jason Miller, who assisted in the mixing process. As with the previous album, there’s also a sprinkling of atmospheric pieces that are truly the stuff of nightmares, while possessing a certain skewed beauty in their dark elegance.
The apocalyptic percussion and chants that permeate opening track Soulless (The Maker's Reflection) are reminiscent of the previous album's chilling opener Bellum In Abyssus – and considerably louder as well, suggesting even greater horrors to come. The epic martial drums that open the title track continue the feeling of doom, before an inhuman scream resonates through the abyss to kick off a blast of skull-cracking synth bass and sampled orchestra swells beneath Nero's notorious razor-toothed demon vocals (an effect mainly achieved with a pitch-shifter and seriously heavy compression). It's a potent brew that serves them well, but they've outdone themselves here: this is hands-down the most horrifying music I've ever heard.
The throbbing bass-pulse of Heartworm under-pins a meaty, Ministry-like guitar riff, framing a minimalist thudding rhythm that serves as perfect counterpoint to Bellum's poltergeist rants about 'the god of silver tongue' who 'sits upon the throne of contamination.' The same synth bass & guitar combination is cranked to nearly double the tempo for 'Thy Serpent Tongue,' which seems to continue the same themes and imagery (and maybe it's not a coincidence that both tracks are exactly the same length). Bloodwork goes deep with a colossal drop-tuned riff slaved to stacks of sawtooth synths and some of the band's strongest drumming to date.
The Derelict (God Forsaken) serves up more of the title track's end-of-the-world vibe, albeit with a more simplistic structure and quicker pace. Widowmaker brings in additional vocals from Bleeding Through's Brandan Schieppati, lending the cut a tight, intense metalcore feel, but with a cavernous reverb on the instruments that blows the mix up to a cosmic scale, and the surprisingly subdued, piano-backed verses of There But For the Grace of God are occasionally torn asunder by a wall of epic guitar. Of Decay (An Exit) offers a brief dark ambient break of dripping water and pensive piano played in a cavernous space, leading into the gently trauma-inducing Suicide Note Lullaby, which is exactly what its title implies: a grim declaration of self-destruction delivered in a breathy whisper, accompanied by clean guitar and backing choir in the verses, and in Bellum's characteristic rasp for the chorus.
Even more low-key, but no less evil, Lustmord-like bass drones and somber piano accompany Nero's multi-pitched chant in As One With the Flies, before sending us off with the rhapsodic tapestry of Under the Judas Tree, which not only features the band's first use of acoustic guitar, but offers the even more surprising appearance of largely untreated, melodic vocals from Nero... and perhaps the most shocking revelation of all: it's a pure, raw and poignant delivery with just enough edge to tie the ballad back to the nihilistic concept of the tracks which precede it. It's potent stuff, and a perfect coda.
If you’ve been bewitched by this band of misfits since the beginning – or at least since Crwn Thy Frnicatr – you’ll be quite taken with We The Fallen. But I wouldn’t recommend diving straight into this one without at least a little preparation; if you’re into industrial-metal a la classic Ministry, then check out P9’s cover of You Know What You Are on INRI, which manages to exceed the bile-spewing intensity of Al Jourgensen’s original (which is kind of like trying to outdo the decibel output of a top-fuel dragster). If you like what you hear, then you’re probably ready to face the sensory massacre encoded within these new tracks. There, now I’ve satisfied proper safety codes and issued the mandatory precautions… so once you plunk down the bucks and give this one a spin, you’re on your own.