Few musicians encapsulate the freewheeling spirit of the metal underground like Shane Embury. Although best known as the bassist with NAPALM DEATH, he has been almost absurdly prolific over the years with a steady stream of bands and side projects, covering a ludicrous amount of musical territory along the way: BRUJERIA, LOCK UP, MEATHOOK SEED, VENOMOUS CONCEPT, BORN TO MURDER THE WORLD, etc., the crazy list goes on.
Meanwhile, producer Russ Russell is simply one of the great unsung heroes of the metal world. His production work has been a fundamental part of NAPALM DEATH's ongoing (r)evolution, of course, via epoch-wrecking albums like "Apex Predator – Easy Meat" (arguably their best yet!), but he has sprinkled that same magic on countless artists and bands over the years, from all manner of disparate genres.
Take all that into account and TRONOS was never going to be some perfunctory metal record. Pieced together over several years, "Celestial Mechanics" is a brilliant example of what happens when mercurial madmen collaborate, with no limitations or deadlines. An all-star cast certainly helps, too: MEGADETH drummer Dirk Verbeuren is responsible for these loping, lupine rhythms, NUCLEAR ASSAULT legend Dan Lilker, MASTODON's Troy Sanders and FAITH NO MORE's Billy Gould all contribute bass tracks, and VOIVOD frontman Snake chips in with a peerless cameo. But make no mistake, TRONOS is all about the insanity that erupts when Embury and Russell get together to make music. Ostensibly an opportunity for the duo to indulge their shared love of TRIPTYKON-style, bendy doom riffs and shimmering, COCTEAU TWINS-like ambience, these songs offer a much more varied and immersive experience than that proposed combo might suggest. Opener "Walking Among The Dead Things" lays down the band's ethos across eight lumbering minutes; on one level, this is densely psychedelic, left-field doom, but on the other—who fucking knows what this is? Somewhere between the churning riffs, Verbeuren's chattering kicks and Embury's deadpan vocal, a palpable sense of cosmic menace is unmistakable. "Judas Cradle" is similarly disconcerting: a gnarly, motoring collage of cracked riffs and astral anguish, it strikes an impressive balance between flat-out heaviness and wistful, lysergic euphoria.
Other moments plunge more deeply into shoegaze waters. "Voyeurs Of Nature's Tragedies" is absolutely sublime; Erica Nockalls's plaintive vocal meshing perfectly with the track's woozy, underwater post-punk rumble, like DEAD CAN DANCE jamming with KILLING JOKE in Chtulhu's lair. "Premonition" is all swampy echoes and ghostly guitar, Snake's eerie vocal coasting across a beautifully fluid, low-slung groove and surging, scabrous choruses. "Beyond The Stream Of Consciousness" is the final, inexorable descent into oblivion, ambience wielded as a weapon of wonder, before an audacious closing cover of BLACK SABBATH's "Johnny Blade" provides a welcome soft landing.
Many side projects have an air of disposability about them, but this one is a definite keeper. Much more than a many-legged studio jam, "Celestial Mechanics" is both powerfully original and frequently startling. Quite what it all means is anyone's guess, but losing your mind and surrendering to the cosmic void has never felt so good.