By Grayson Haver Currin · January 16, 2024 Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Shirt

The Earth, we are mostly assured, will be fine. Whether we eventually make our own home uninhabitable through a rain of bombs, a tide of biological weapons, or the seemingly inexorable creep of climate change, the planet itself will adjust soon enough, shrugging off these sins like the transgressions of some foolish old lover. But what about humanity and our possible escape hatches, the hope that when we reach our end here, there might be somewhere else to go?

This has long been a purview of sci-fi writers foreseeing how it all ends and, more recently, venture capitalists hoping to turn doom into dividends. It is also the ambit of ILION, the intense and engrossing third album by French metallurgists SLIFT. Crosshatching space rock to stoner metal, Krautrock to black metal, the void to the arduous resurrection, their musical scope is broad enough to at least approach that end-times question: Where can we go when what we have is gone?

Just a half-decade ago, SLIFT was a peppy, even playful trio, emerging from the fabled and ancient city of Toulouse with 2018’s giddy La Planète Inexplorée. They seemed to love Thee Oh Sees and Sabbath, acid and existentialism. Even as their sound ballooned and bent into 2020’s UMMON, built on heavier doses of Hawkwind and Popol Vuh, they still seemed bubbly, adding the uplifting energy of some art rock act from Baltimore circa 2007 to these heavier payloads. “It’s in this band,” Jean Fossat, one of SLIFT’s two brothers, explained in 2021, “that we can do what we want.” What should have been a breakthrough, though, was stymied by all that came next—the upheaval of a global pandemic, civil rights reckonings, multiple wars, new Cold War whisperings. If you haven’t been changed or at least contemplated how it all plays out during this last little stretch of history, where have you gotten your news?

ILION begins with an earthly finale, our towers and talismans crumbling in a post-industrial wasteland as humans make one last bid for salvation. “They will wander in space among the stars/ Until they become a long-forgotten tale,” Slift sings, the band’s warped interwoven vocals suggesting some mechanized Mephistopheles. For these 11 minutes, Slift dashes among Krallice-like sprints, Hendrix-inspired squalls, and Neu!-enhanced keyboard hazes, reaching escape velocity in time to slam into “Nimh,” a desperate and relentless tale of trying and failing to find that next frontier.

Promising moments emerge during the next hour: a boy who seems to remember the world that was lost, a weaver who can transcribe what has been and what may still be, a vision of hope there at the end. ILION suggests vague redemption, the idea that our stories will carry on even if only in a faint flicker. But this tumultuous music, jerking and throbbing and splintering and shuddering as it moves ahead, seems to demand, very loudly, an answer to a question worth repeating every day: What is the point of going through the madness and torment of finding somewhere else when we could just not ruin what we already have?

It’s impossible not to fret over that question as closer “Enter the Loop” begins. Its cycle of industrial-strength electronics feels like a death trap, a wordless and judgmental reminder that, should we actually find somewhere new, we’ll eventually have to ask and answer these same riddles again anyway. SLIFT’s music can take you to most any corner of psychedelic rock’s orbit. Turns out, though, they’d prefer to stay right here.

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