Power trio SLIFT blasts off into the rock cosmos with the philosophical ILION, leaving genre boundaries far behind.

Release date: January 19, 2024 | Sub Pop Records | Facebook | Bandcamp

My God, it’s full of stars…

Without a doubt, the three French astronauts that make up SLIFT are onto something good. Since their formation, the power trio has built strength to strength and proven themselves capable of crafting a sound big enough to fill the cosmos. Having previously conquered and condensed the sounds of garage rock, psych, space rock, prog, doom, and krautrock on 2020’s excellent Ummon, SLIFT were already poised to be crowned modern rock royalty. And with their new album ILION, it seems the band is ready to extend that reign right out into space.

Right off the bat, it needs to be said that ILION is an album that demands a serious investment from listeners. Weighing in at the outer limits of the CD format (around 80 minutes, specifically), SLIFT takes a lot of time to craft an engrossing atmosphere. On top of the aforementioned genres, the band has woven a lot of post-rock influence into their compositions. The resulting sound is kind of a cosmic gumbo that does lead to some expansive track lengths, but the overall effect is extremely immersive and often deeply moving.

In mastering both post-rock and space rock as styles, the band assures that the listener’s time is rewarded no matter what they’re doing. Whether it’s repeating a stunning motif over several minutes or letting loose a protracted, blazing solo over a wash of psychedelic pedal effects, SLIFT delivers the goods every time. Further enhancing the structures of the songs is a pristine sense of dynamics. Parts of the album can be almost suffocating in their dense heaviness, while other moments feel almost vacant and adrift in space, hanging onto a simple drum pattern or bassline while guitars and synths glitter in the dark like C-beams near the Tannhäuser Gate. Add onto that the band’s great sense of progression and riffcraft, and the 80 minutes of ILION seem to pass quicker than other albums half the length.

On that note, one may have mentioned that I haven’t seen fit to single out any specific tracks yet. Highlights do have to be called out, and the songwriting throughout is ambitious and complex enough to make any prog fan misty-eyed. But SLIFT definitely crafted this album as one that’s meant to be heard all at once. With its lyrical ambitions, which the band describes as a ‘Homeric story’ full of emotion, the album is greater than the sum of its (great) parts. Giving the album a full, undivided listen (and then another, and another) is practically a requirement for feeling the music’s full effect.

That said, certain moments will cling in the mind long after the album’s over. For me personally, the continuous 21 minutes that make up “The Words That Have Never Been Heard” and the instrumental “Confluence” is one of the most sublime stretches of music I’ve heard in recent memory. The second half of “Uruk”, with its absolute monolith of a motif, is likewise stunning, as is the final stretch of “The Story That Has Never Been Told.” But honestly, any one of the individual tracks across ILION are sonic delights in their epic, suite-styled grandeur.

Of course, it comes down to the band members themselves to conjure such powerful music and execute it so damn well. Jean Fossat’s guitars are absolute show stealers whenever he kicks into high gear, while his synth work is tastefully subdued and always adds to the atmosphere perfectly. His singing is likewise perfect for the sound, kicking between melodic chants and strident Killing Joke-esque shouts with ease. Meanwhile, Rémi Fossat’s bass work is powerful across the board, whether he’s maintaining altitude with repeating figures or firing the thrusters and letting the bass serve as the lead instrument. Canek Flores is an absolute powerhouse to boot, and with him on the stool that drum kit is constantly giving it all she’s got. Add to that some tasteful sax on “Confluence”, and a production that is resonant and vast as the night sky, and every piece fits together wonderfully.

For those that have the mood and patience to take on the great expanse of ILION, treasures await in each moment. It’s practically cinema for the ears, and provided the listener has an appreciation for space rock and finds the right time and place to listen to it with full immersion, I can’t imagine the album would let you down. Three albums in, and SLIFT have already proven themselves one of contemporary rock’s finest bands with mastery over their own sonic niche. Space rock may not be the final frontier, and others may have gone there before, but with ILION, it’s hard to think of anyone who has gone so boldly.

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