Titan to Tachyons – Vonals Review

Carved into the dermal Earth beneath Mount Ikeno, an enormous silicate eye gazes into itself to catch a glimpse of the most unassuming particles in the universe. It is, in a conventional sense, blind. No pupil or iris is useful at this depth; visible light cannot enter. Instead, it waits and watches for flashes of light within its own vitreous humor, cones of ghastly blue that trace the motion of subatomic flecks on the edge of existence. This is Super-Kamiokande; the Neutron Wrangler.

It’s possible that Sally Gates and her Titan to Tachyons co-conspirators know nothing of the giant photomultiplier retina buried in the mountains of Japan, but the cover of Vonals seems awfully suggestive. The placid echoes that close the record’s first song, “Neutron Wrangler” likewise seem just a bit too suggestive of a cool, dark, and occasionally blinking tank of ultrapure water. But one could read all the wiggling mysteries of the universe into the band’s playful jazz-prog. With a lineup of New York experimental metal and prog veterans, it’s no surprise that the group glint and dazzle like so many subatomic scintillations, but the strength of Vonals lies in its subtle ebb of the ridiculous and the restrained.

Vonals six songs oscillate between orbitals; one moment they’re buzzing, unstable cacophonies of tapped odd-time, the next they’ve collapsed to a lower power level. “Blue Thought Particles” is particularly illustrative of this approach. Bassists Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle) and Matt Hollenberg (Cleric) begin in jagged line behind Gates’ guitar work, but loosen into background parts for her first solo before taking over a dusky, sneering groove section that I could swear is ripped straight from that Intercepting Pattern record. It’s not long before Gates whips them into a frenzy for an odd-time solo section, only to suddenly take the back seat once again, letting Imperial Triumphant’s Kenny Grohowski steal the show with his free-wheeling kit work. Each time the band seem to run out of steam, they’re jolted back into action by a cue from Gates.

You will not be shocked to hear that Colin Marston’s production does not hurt Vonals one bit. Grohowski’s drums are beautifully rendered, with sizzling cymbals and a snappy snare. Dunn and Hollenberg’s basses are panned to different ears and given tones just distinctive enough to separate them timbrally, yet there’s a continuity between the string slingers such that it can be tough to know at times which of the three is playing what. It’s especially tricky when Gates’ guitar shifts from one side of the sound stage to the other. Impeccable detail aside, Vonals does sound a bit different from the usual Marston projects. Befitting the band’s sci-fi shadings, there’s a certain sheen and polish to the record that’s just a tad smoother and silkier than what you’d get on a Behold the Arctopus release. The result is a real joy to listen to; Vonals feels inviting despite its oddness.

For a sophomore record, Vonals is remarkably self-assured, often opting for weirdness over wizardry. The droning front half of “Wax Hypnotic” is hardly a technical showcase, but Gates’ lilting guitar stings inject enough interest to keep its slow crescendo engaging. At six minutes, the band seamlessly switch into a lazy lounge waltz, closing with a fuzzed-out version of the same for Gates to solo over. Her snarling, bubbling guitar lines bring the song to a satisfying conclusion, so much that the following “Close the Valve and Wait” feels like a well-earned and charming digression. Even the closing track, “Blue Thought Particles,” spends most of its time grooving, impressing with subtle flourishes. Titan to Tachyons know how to impress and entertain no matter how fast their fingers are flailing, and it makes forty-five minutes of jazz metal go by remarkably quickly. When it’s done? Sure I could move on to the new Faceless Burial. But a lot of the time I just spin Vonals again.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Tzadik Records
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Releases Worldwide:
September 16th, 2022

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