Trance to the Sun: Via Subterranea (Below Sea Level Recordings, 2016)
Trance to the Sun is a post-punk, gothic trio that uses additional live members when needed. The core members consist of Ashkelon Sain (guitar, bass, keys), Ingrid Luna Blue (vox), and Daniel Henderson (drums). The band formed in 1990 with Sain being founder of the band. Via Subterranea is their eighth album and their first in 15 years. This band is not filled with newcomers to music nor to the genres they deftly meld together. They are veterans and the quality of Via Subterranea demonstrates that fact.
“Max Mystic” starts off Via Subterranea with dreamy vocals and an addictive bass-line that just keeps walking throughout the song. Luna Blue channels a bit of Siouxsie Sioux in her breathy, ethereal vocals. Synths play beautiful, floating drones under the percussion. The guitar work glitters and has this amazing counter melody to the vocals. “Railcar to Tasmania” has an almost laid back groove it, with reverb drenched vocals and acoustic guitar. The drums are intricate and the bass work spot on. There are these moments in the song where it reminds me of Gene Loves Jezebel at the top of their game. Don’t get me wrong. Trance to the Sun has their own sound but there are all these wonderful moments where the right touches just spark references to beloved bands. At about 3:00, there is a bridge that is emotive and a post-punk dream. The bass tones in this particular track are gorgeous.
“Lost Garden Gnome Hotline” has these sparse, almost disconnected drums and moody guitar. The bass plays a short line to keep it all together and in focus while Luna Blue does her vox in spoken word. There is a mystical and poetic nature to the lyrics here, as she breathes them into the speakers.
Under a salt crust they wait for the orchestra but it never comes,
it never begins.
Blank space between leaves
Blank space between…. Friends,
he’s missing again!
Quicksand or gusts of wind?
Crows with armor?
Some strange charmer?
Sixty-eight were glimpsed on a receding barge,
the horizon swallowed them,
their present location a mystery
Coupled with the tones and lines in the music, there is an almost ominous feel to the spoken words. The track builds as synths soar and guitars create slow, creeping walls of fuzz. “Eons and Ions” has spacey synth sounds, and a staccato texture just under the surface of the driving bass and drums. The piano work gives the piece depth and texture while guitars warble and create walls of sound here and there. It’s a wonderfully complex composition.
“Mammoth Capsule” just screams seventies rock piece from the get go. However, it is sprinkled with moody synth and Luna Blue always brings the song back to a post-punk feel. High-hat blazes as Sain shows off his guitar prowess. Wah-wah shimmers through the track along with fuzzed out walls and long, drawn out emotive notes. The song ends with sounds of wind and then fades. “Loch Ness Square” begins with explosive tom-heavy drums a definite prog-rock feel. Something I haven’t mentioned much is the lyrics and their rather poetic quality. They are dark but there is a depth here, evoking a sort of goth and almost Black Sabbath sort of ominous feel. Luna Blue sings,
They saw it pouring through the valleys,
They saw it pouring down the hills,
And they fought it with their torches,
And their tinctures and their wills,
But we had no use for valor,
And we had no need for fear.
We lay all wrapped in our winter coats,
You lips against my hair,
While blood turned the dirt to mud
There is a large, picturesque, almost fantasy image being painted with words. The music, of course, really enhances the lyrics and mirrors the sense of urgency in Luna Blue’s words. Henderson should also be hailed for his intricate percussion work throughout the album. He’s another drummer that not only keeps time but plays his kit like an instrument, giving various touches and feels to enhance the overall composition of the music.
“Aviatrix (The Sudden Birds)” is another song that evokes seventies guitar power bands with a beautifully rendered guitar piece at the beginning. It is coupled with breathy synth drones and expressive percussion and bass. At about 5:08, there is a rather interesting bridge, as the bass, drums, and synths play with the melody in various forms. “Where Smoke Blows Across” is the longest on the album, clocking in at 10:04. It beings with an ominous guitar line and melancholy synths. It is a dreamy, synth-heavy composition with understated percussion and bass that hangs back in the mix. There are even flavors of a middle eastern sort in the guitar work about midway through the track.
“Purple Mushroom House” begins with rain and the sound of birds. Bright piano rings out as if in the distance. Jazz style percussion comes into the mix and then dreamy, floating guitars with droney synths fill the voids. This reminds me of the more ethereal moments in spaced out, drug-fueled seventies compositions. Luna Blue sings,
Postman, please deliver my note
To the purple mushroom house,
You can only find it at night,
By the light of the crescent moon,
You ford the stream,
Walking toad’s backs at night,
With the glint of Aldebaran in your eye.
Luna Blue’s lyrics are always provocative and create a story world with images, characters, and emotive touches. “Sleep Divination” begins with reverbed washed guitar, tinny sounds, synths that make spacey sounds in the deepest crevices of the composition, and expressive high-hat. A wood-block sound enters the mix and gives it texture. The guitars begin to build up layers as a wall of sound slowly grows throughout the piece. This is largely an instrumental song, with Luna Blue only punctuating the soundscape for brief moments with “I know you’ve been asleep for a few millenium” as a repeated line. The track fades as synths play a drone and the album is silenced.
Via Subterranea is a melding of genres with expressive goth, post-punk, darkwave, prog rock, and middle eastern flavors. Channeling the likes of Siouxsie Sioux, Gene Loves Jezebel, The Cure and many other artists and styles, Trance to the Sun creates their own lush and mature sound. The lyrics create word pictures, fantasy lands, and emotive moments that are coupled with with the larger, intricate instrumentation.
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