In the narrative of rock history, there’s a special place reserved for the almighty power trio. While the best known representations of the ensembles might be Cream or the groups led by Jimi Hendrix, in recent times the form has nestled itself firmly in the underground. 2019 in particular finds many such groups popping up left and right, from reissues of Caspar Brötzmann’s Massaker and the Dutch trio Gore’s reimagined album Revanche, to new albums by Unnatural Ways and Mörglbl. It is an exciting time for the power trio. Rising to the top, however, is the NYC-based group Skryptor. Their debut album Luminous Volumes is out this week as a collaborative venture between legendary labels Sleeping Giant Glossolalia, Skin Graft and Aqualamb.
Given the group’s lineup, it really isn’t surprising they are able to come out swinging on their debut release. Comprised of Tim Garrigan of the legendary Dazzling Killmen on guitar and keyboards, David McClelland of the lesser-known but still incredible Craw (discussed here) on bass and keyboards, and Hank Shteamer, an editor at Rolling Stone and curator of the vital Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches blog as well as a member of STATS and Aa, rounds the unit out on drums.
Skryptor’s sound is sludgy but agile, quite heavy at times but without the unsettling menace of Craw and the Killmen. The album opens with the aptly named “Raga,” perhaps a nod to the long, sinewy lines played in unison by the guitar and bass. The effect is at times like drawn-out extensions of the kind of runs Mastodon has made their calling card, yet these phrases often run headlong into unexpected cadences that harken back to Garrigan and McClelland’s former outfits. And when the keyboards appear, they give the passages a Seventies prog feel. It’s certainly an auspicious way to kick off an album, a lot of information presented in an easily digestible form.
This is followed by “Lotus and Mace,” a track that feeds off the momentum of the previous song, but is also more discordant and distressing, cycling through riffs at an unpredictable rate, bringing to mind anyone from Jesus Lizard to Primus to Don Cabellero and Dysrhythmia in a matter of a few minutes. Halfway through, Garrigan finds an unexpected bit of melody that sends the three of them off into more psychedelic vistas. Yet there’s no bliss to be found; the drums and bass keep things roiling underneath as the guitar soars overhead.
The album deftly jumps from one highlight to the next. Interludes “The Orchard, Pt. 1” and “The Orchard, Pt. 2” appear in the third and sixth slots respectively and sound like some strange mash-up of King Crimson and Captain Beefheart. “Mystification” is a Voivod-ian trip through space, while “Red Mountain” is the most straight forward rock-sounding track, like if Sonny Sharrock joined Mountain.
The nearly ten-minute “Summer Blossoms” closes the album out on an epic note. Things begin spacey and languid, like Pink Floyd or early Tortoise. When the heavier moments come, strange and dense chords keep resolving to open and melodic vistas. Garrigan’s guitar eventually takes the lead, steering the tune through more psychedelic moments before being thrust back into sludgier chord progressions. The final minutes moves into a doomier riff and the guitar leads reach for the stratosphere. When the rhythm section drops away, the guitar breaks the pull of gravity and seems to drift beautifully away, the promise of all the psychedelic yearning fulfilled.
Luminous Volumes is crammed full of ideas and inventiveness. Despite the amount of musical information contained in each track, each song is coherent, as is the album as a whole. And even though this is only their debut, Skryptor is comfortable in their ambition, making this conglomeration of sounds, styles and complexities look easy. This may be their first effort as a group, but one can hear all their previous knowledge and experience come to the fore and one can only hope they will continue reaching toward such heights in the near future.