SLIFT take off to the firmament with their masterpiece “Ilion”.

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The European superstars of psych rock are back. The most exciting band in the scene returns after the tsunami that was the excellent “Ummon”. To take the hype up a notch, SLIFT has spent months teasing us, proving that they still have it. Getting back to their first love with another masterful KEXP session, unveiling the sublime sci-fi video for “Weaver’s Weft” and piquing our curiosity with the artwork — still designed by Caza but resolutely different from the previous one.

To discuss this new effort, we need to put it back in the context of Slift’s already busy discography and career. It seems like the band has already lived a thousand lives since the stoner scene discovered them in the post-Covid era on the main stage of most fuzz-oriented festivals. Since then, “Ummon” has established itself as a classic of the genre, a masterpiece acclaimed by critics and audiences alike. This subtle blend of psychedelia and heaviness backed by a love for extended jams is nothing new, but Slift has brought a breath of fresh air with a more potent production, elements of krautrock and, most importantly, infusing their garage rock roots to give a nearly punkish energy to their songs.

Quite simply, Slift blends vintage influences with a modern essence, and it’s no wonder that, without revolutionizing classic recipes, Slift became a real force to be reckoned with. Not to mention the chemistry between our three musketeers, which can’t be faked or imitated.

Following this success, the challenge was gigantic. Recently signed to the legendary Sub Pop label and bolstered by tours that have established them as a first-class act all over the world, they now had to seal the deal with this third record. Many feared that “Ilion” would be just another “Ummon”, as good as its predecessor but without the charm of the first encounter. Others feared that the band would wave goodbye to their stoner-infused era and go back to the garage psychedelia of their early days. Some even doubted the band’s ability to be as inspired, seeing “Ummon” as the enchanted interlude of a band who would live on the memory of this album.

Everyone was wrong: “Ilion” is a masterclass. Unquestionable. Colossal. TOTAL.

The tone is set from the supersonic attack of the eponymous track, for which Slift doesn’t hesitate to play it noisy, even dissonant, and kick things off with an 11-minute number. The outcome is clear. Slift has taken advantage of an even more meticulous and powerful production to give body to its tracks. The bass benefits particularly from this treatment, being even more present and rounded than on “Ummon”. The album thus benefits from a dynamic quality that is rare in modern music. The walls of sound in heavy parts are appropriately violent, while the more atmospheric sections offer the luxury of being quiet and delicate. The drums are at times imbued with a jazz fusion energy, at other times totally open and as percussive as ever. And the guitars just keep on coming, wave after wave. Whether in a melodic, noisy or riffy register, the production hits the nail on the head from beginning to end of the album’s 79 minutes.

“Ilion” also differs greatly from its big brother in its vocal delivery. If vocals were the least central element in the combo’s music up to now, here they take on their full meaning and set the course of the tracks, becoming their hallmark: the vocal lines are sometimes more grandiloquent but also more raw and moving. And all this, of course, makes them more memorable. In the summer of 2022, Slift went on the road with saxophonist and machinist Etienne Jaumet, and no doubt it was from these sessions that “Confluence” was born, this oozing jam delight, recalling the madness of the 70’s between the suave saxophone and the first experiments with incomprehensible synths. It’s a dreamlike interlude, where the dream collapses in on itself to make way for the next stage of a harrowing, redemptive journey.

The strength of “Ilion” is not just a matter of turning up the gears or working harder on vocals. It’s also a darker, crazier album. If “Ummon” wasn’t a happy album by any means, it seemed distant, watching and judging the world from afar. Perhaps that is why Caza’s artwork reminded me so much of Alan Moore’s Dr. Manhattan hidden on the Red Planet. He observed without intervening. With “Ilion”, Slift takes part in the inner battles of a sick society. There’s a much more palpable sense of urgency and distress. If “Ummon” was the historian, “Ilion” is the sociologist. It only takes one listen to “Uruk” to perceive this new darkness.

And that’s THE great novelty of this album, as Slift has added post-hardcore and post-metal to their already wide-ranging influences. On paper, it’s hard to blend these genres with psychedelia without losing coherence and impact, but the Toulousain trio pulled it off! While this influence is most evident on “Uruk”, it runs through the entire record in the choices made in the chord progressions, arrangements and themes.

Needless to say, the journey offered by this album deserves each track to be experienced and savored by ears as virgin as possible. I came out of my listening sessions blown away and even blasted away. While Slift initially won my heart with “Ummon”, “Ilion” proved to me that France has finally found its great torchbearers of the fuzz sound I love. A psych rock band that thinks big, is ambitious, masters its subject from start to finish, and seems quite simply unstoppable. Having conquered France, Europe, and soon the world, where will the Slift ship sail next? We’ll find out in the next episode of this already sublime odyssey!

Last modified: 5 February 2024