Firmly established in the experimental metal hinterlands, Texas duo Pinkish Black are set to release their third full-length Concept Unification on June 14. Consisting of Daron Beck on vocals, synths and keyboards and Jon Teague on drums and synths, the pair produce a powerful and intriguing metal record without the use of the genre’s ultimate signifier, the guitar. Instead, they utilize a battery of keys and synths, instruments which have never lost their forward-thinking veneer, despite having been introduced to popular music decades ago.
Pinkish Black’s sound occupies a territory that is equally indebted to the past and the future. Many have come to know this band through their shows supporting the reformed Italian prog group Goblin. The pairing proved appropriate, as Pinkish Black’s love of their forebears’ Giallo soundtracks certainly inform the group’s sound. The presence of Moog synths and keys immediately greet the listener as the album opens with the title track. An understated and echoing vocal narrates over the top and the effect is reminiscent of one of Blade Runner’s flying cars floating over a futuristic cityscape. While Concept Unification might possess rather monochrome cover art, the music, much like the band’s name, sounds like great swaths of neon cutting through a pitch black midnight.
If Goblin’s presence from the past looms large over the duo’s sound, then Ulver is a more modern point of reference. This becomes apparent on the second track, “Until.” Here the vocals take on a more central role. While Beck’s singing isn’t quite as powerful as Ulver’s Garm, he certainly has more than enough ability to pull off this material. The song also features a powerful bass line performed by the keyboards. At first listen, one could easily mistake the line for a distorted bass guitar given its considerable heaviness and this might be the closest the group comes to a traditional metal sound. The drums join the bass figure in a lumbering stomp, like a deconstructed Godflesh. Pinkish Black successfully walks a tightrope between oppressive heaviness and some sort of dystopian pop beauty.
The band forges forward throughout the album with their powerful hybrid sound. There are nods to Tangerine Dream’s ambient washes in “Petit Mal” and “Inanimatronic,” the latter hinting just a bit more towards industrial music as well. They also utilize a more traditional piano sound on “Dial Tone” and “Next Solution,” with the lower keys sounding every bit as heavy as a power chord on the former. On the latter, the keys once again take on a more abrasive quality and very much hints at a doom metal influence. Yet given the wide sound palette at play, the mental imagery leans more towards an epic and dystopian futurism. The vocals soar over a driving bass ostinato which at times lapses into a knotted and discordant cadence, and Pinkish Black simultaneously evokes both Goblin’s soundtrack to 1977’s Suspiria and Ulver’s Perdition City. The track builds towards a startling climax, like Jean-Michel Jarre experiencing some sort of drug-induced paranoid freakout. The track then returns to another doom-laden passage, letting the waves of desolation take the whole affair to its final conclusion.
It speaks to metal’s current state, and the genre’s insatiable consumption and assimilation of every influence it comes into contact with, that a group like Pinkish Black can put out a record like Concept Unification with only a minimal amount of questioning of their stylistic allegiance. They fall firmly into a cadre of artist who ascribe to a “metal doesn’t have to sound like metal to be metal” philosophy, which is making the genre incredibly vital. It’s really hard to predict where all this experimentation will take us because right now, it seems like anything goes. Will all these movements continue to contribute to the endless expansion of metal’s boundaries, or are we on the verge of the birth of new genres of music? Or, as some have asked, do genres even exist anymore? Concept Unification will certainly provide those who love to contemplate such questions with much food for thought. And for those who just want to experience powerful music, Pinkish Black delivers that in spades as well.