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White Suns - "Psychic Drift" | Album Review

by Mike LeSuer (@zebraabraham)

If you look up the wikiHow article on “How To Imminently Dismantle A Tedious Family Reunion” you’ll find that the first step requires a set of decent speakers and a copy of the album Totem by White Suns. Few bands before them have weaponized technology as effectively in order to mutilate the otherwise-simple guitar and percussion setup, toting abrasive lyrics, melodic jumpscares, and family-unfriendly levels of distortion to create an eerie soundscape not entirely dissimilar to the sensation of sleep paralysis in its generation of anxiety inflicted upon an unwillingly-passive audience. In fact, most of the reviews for the record read more like pull-quotes lauding a good horror movie than promotional material for the most brutal of black metal groups (“painstakingly frightening,” “truly deranged, malevolent, vicious, feral, lumbering,” “hell on hell on hell”). At this point in their career, it’s been established that no musicians know how to take the joy out of life more entirely than the NYC-based noise rock band.

Evidently, at this point in their career the now-duo has also opted to take the guitars and drums out of their nightmarish formula, confirming that a noise rock album without guitar isn’t dissimilar to a year without summers. Psychic Drift, the group’s fifth full-length, explores the darkest recesses of electronic technology, swapping out spasms of cavernous no wave for claustrophobic loops of sinister dial tones averaging ten minutes a piece. “There are no echoes here,” reassures vocalist Kevin Barry on “Pilgrim,” as if the piercing layers of noise are any consolation for his forfeited reputation of helming a project whose aesthetic could best be summed up as Tortured Souls Accosting Passersby In Total Subterranean Darkness, or The Incubus Crouching On Your Chest And His Pupil-less Horse Buddy.

Remarkably, so much of what made Totem a masterful multi-sensory experience is fluently reattributed to the dissonant drones of Psychic Drift. Barry’s vocal delivery - including spoken word, shouted word, and even a bit of intoned word - maintains the enigmatic freneticism spanning the group’s discography, while the backing soundtrack exudes the same constipation of rational harmonies. Instrumentational withdrawal seems to reach a fever pitch on “A Year Without Summers,” where the defibrillatorial electronic thumps sound like guitars futilely attempting to burst back into the lineup. Various chopped and screwed audio samples taken from the desolate outdoors even hint at their frequently hinted at ties to the atmospheric black metal community, with whom they’re most closely tied via their apocalyptic label.

Psychic Drift may actually be the most characteristically White Suns record to date due to its total immersion in oscillations as ominous as Laura Palmer’s ceiling fan. The tensions cultivated by Barry and remaining Sun Dana Matthiessen on each track warrant them an honorary PhD in Horror Screenwriting (not to mention an eager glad-hand from their Syngenesophobic fanbase). That being said, there’s little hope in converting listeners previously unwelcoming of White Suns’ hostile ambiance. Our hearts go out to the misinformed saps who impulse-buy any record with groovy artwork and “psychic” in the title; Drift certainly won’t make for a pleasant trip.