A year ago Trillion Red reverted to solo act status on release of their debut EP, which had its genesis four years earlier in the mind of Patrick Brown. It was eclectic, good, but incomplete as a whole record. Now with the release of Trillion Red’s first album, Brown has pushed that aside to deliver a magnificent and complete work of art.
Light and shade in music is nothing new, although sadly countless millions never listen to music that fully allows immersion in an aural universe. There are many metalheads in that number, and not just those who survive on a diet consisting entirely of grindcore. Just as dynamics and other contrast and conflict are nothing new, neither is borrowing from many musical styles, but this too is shamefully seen as novel and strange. In this context Trillion Red’s “Metaphere” is avant-garde, which literally means “of the future”. Unfortunately it’s not really the future, but nor is it familiar. Of course we know every label describes their latest offering as unlike anything that has come before, but I can say with certainty this is genuinely progressive, experimental metal. It will satisfy fans of progressive metal and rock as well as lovers of drone, and delivers listen after listen (I’m up to about ten now myself).
Let’s get back to light and shade, the foundation of this record. The clear production and frequently sparse instrumentation really help the contrast in sound intensity and volume. It shifts from delicate twinkling electronics, simple low-string melodies and phrases on acoustic guitar, to searing electric guitar, heavy chugging, strong bass lines and thumping drums. And when I say thumping they are at times smashing, crashing percussion that you may not have heard the likes of before. Brown makes good use of an occasional strong sludge feel and at others it nears drone, but his interpretation of repetition is a variation on themes rather than repeated chords and phrases.
There’s not so much obvious, in-your-face playing around with speed and time signatures within individual songs although ‘Parables and Levitation’ really does use it to great effect, supported by the short sections of distorted and uneasily harmonised vocals. I suppose ‘harmony’ is the wrong word here – the simultaneous vocal tracks creating a wavering and unsettling discord.
The use of light and dark to create tension doesn’t rely on creating unpleasantness. It is at once both calm, soothing and embracing, and unnerving, tense and deeply sad. It works because while deeply emotional, it doesn’t take the emotion to extremes and remain there. A great example is ‘Trichroic’, a song in three parts plus a prelude. The name tells us it will be a song that has a single core but sounds different as you rotate it and look at it from each of three angles. The prelude introduces the theme, or that core, followed by two disturbing and troubled variations and finished off with the appropriately named movement ‘Ephemeral Light’, which offers less than a minute of relief.
The vocals are just plain awesome. Brown alternates between loud whispering and quiet screaming and then quiet whispering and slightly louder screaming with a little chanting and spoken word thrown in. He use at least five distinct styles, and his voice reveals a huge sense of reluctance in parts and anguish in others, as if sharing his story causes him pain, yet share it he must. His deeper notes waver with wonderful imperfection that remind me of Steve Kilbey‘s in the earliest Church albums. I so love voices that are a million miles from X-factor and all the soulless shit you hear on mainstream radio.
In another demonstration of his artistry, Brown finishes the record with 25 seconds of silence. He knows that silence is a note, well not so much a note as a chord, a tune, an ambient resonance that can’t be heard with your ears, and one rarely understood. It’s also a great full stop, something which thousands of radio DJs around the world fail to acknowledge every time they cut a song short before spinning the next track, back-announcing it or worse still playing a promo or ad (personally, I consider this a greater crime that “Lulu”).
It’s wrong to suggest there are not hundreds of other bands that do not stick to one particular genre in their songs. To that extent simply drawing from different sources is neither innovative nor unique. It’s not simply using different sounds in itself that makes this such a brilliant record. Forget all that “The guitar uses elements of ….” crap and dive deeper, where you will find an extraordinary and rare ability to have light and shade fight against each other yet at the same time use their differences to create a better whole. This record is certain to end up in my top ten for the year and may well challenge for top spot.