Slift: ‘Ilion’ Review

Album artwork for Ilion

The hero’s journey is a key aspect of millions of great pieces of media going back far beyond the printing press (there are probably some shockingly good cave painting narratives out there). The ancient Greeks told endless illustrious stories. Now, in 2024, it falls to French space-psych trio Slift to carry forward their stories in a space opera inspired by such ancient tales. Ilion, their third record, is inspired by the Iliad among other pieces of literature in more than just name. It is a truly epic listen that carries the listener with it through its meandering compositional style.

Slift themselves are a French band that emerged in the 2010s, with a KEXP performance and a very positive critical reception surrounding their sophomore record Ummon sending them into a state of relative virality. Composed of drummer Canek Flores, alongside brothers Jean and Rémi Fossat sharing vocal duties and wielding guitar and bass respectively, Slift is a band that fits into the psychedelic sensibilities of bands such as Mastodon and Elder, without feeling derivative or tired. They achieve this in part by crafting a less earthen sound than either of the aforementioned bands, with their spacier aspirations fulfilled via heavy use of synthesizers and an almost excessive amount of fuzz.

Opening salvo and title track Ilion presents us with frenetic drumming, crunchy guitars, and high-energy basslines. A slight intermission and a brief respite follow before we’re back to a build, culminating in an explosion of sound and colour. Very much a tone-setter for the record to come. Following this is the initially upbeat Nimh, with an almost mathy introductory riff before some vocals set in. Weavers’ Weft also brings with it some vocal heft, alongside massive guitars.

Jean Fossat’s vocal style, while not particularly flashy, fits rather well into the vibe the band evokes – and is relatively sparse between the winding instrumental sections. Even more sparse are Rémi’s vocals, which with their higher pitch and emphatic use, remind me somewhat of the way Ambrose Kenny-Smith is utilised as a vocalist in King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.

Instrumentally, the mood is often contemplative, with a sense of increasing motion and urgency as heavier sections continue to loom. In sheer contrast, the album’s more metallic moments (of which there are plenty), bring with them Rémi’s planet-shattering bass tone, and a chance for Jean to completely let loose on his six-string. This is showcased well on Confluence, which also throws in a bevy of synth work that wouldn’t be completely out of place in a John Carpenter soundtrack, and a cacophony of layered saxophones.

The instrumental tracks in particular place massive emphasis on Flores’ drumming. His style is generally fast-paced, with an attached sense of intent. He’s playing with urgency, but not in a way that feels misplaced or unplanned among the doomier and mellower sections of the record – Uruk has a great example of this towards the end of the song, where a mellow psychedelic section takes hold but the drumming continues to hold down something altogether more energetic. And yet, this never feels out of place.

Working through Ilion, I have very few gripes with it. It’s not lyrically spectacular, but the vocal moments are so sparse that it never actively detracts from the experience for me. And at 79 minutes, it’s a bit lengthy – though an album with a clear narrative structure like this one (closer Enter the Loop even feels like an ending credits sequence) presents the challenge of shortening it without destroying the flow, and this album exists to be heard in full and with that necessary context. Previous album Ummon was of equal length and that felt somewhat less justified than this in being so long, but the expanded scope of Ilion does go some way towards putting concerns to rest.

With Ilion, Slift presents a full-sounding and well-rounded feature-length psychedelic space epic. The album brings with it a constantly looming sense of urgency, a brilliant showcase of dynamics and instrumental discipline, and a production job surrounding it all that feels cinematic in nature (make no mistake: this is cinema). Throughout Ilion, Slift show themselves to be the Spike Lee of psychedelic rock acts. Do the right thing, and listen to Ilion immediately.

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