From the outside looking in, NYC appears to be populated by elite musicians who obsess over the boundaries between jazz and metal and continue to spit out record after record of mind-melting fusion metal. While it is likely that there probably are tons of local players that worship Darkthrone and Motörhead over all else, Titan To Tachyons seems happy to feed into the perception that the metropolis is filled with musical mad scientists.

Titan To Tachyons first formed as a trio consisting of Sally Gates (ex-Orbweaver) on guitar, Matt Hollenberg (Cleric, John Frum, and multiple John Zorn projects) on bass, and Kenny Grohowski (Imperial Triumphant and various John Zorn projects) on drums. As if that lineup wasn’t strong enough, Trevor Dunn, who had a guest spot on their first album, has joined as a full-time second bassist. His work with Zorn, Fantômas, Faith No More, and Mr. Bungle, among other projects, makes him a natural fit in this ensemble.

Titan To Tachyons inhabits an instrumental hinterland of avant-garde metal that is as unpredictable as it is enthralling. Their second album, Vonals, due out this month on Tzadik, sees the ensemble not only pushing at the boundaries of their sound but also perfecting their explorations. Song titles like “Neutron Wrangler” and “Blue Thought Particles” hint at science fiction vistas, but their obtuse harmonies can lead one to consider more Twin Peaks-inspired weirdness.

“Vonals” sounds like an alien abduction gone wrong or maybe right, depending on your perspective. Metallic riffs and leads spar with strange jazz passages, the two basses interweave with each other but never play in unison. It is notable that Hollenberg plays a bass VI, which exists somewhere between a bass and a baritone guitar. Often one man will play a conventional bass line while the other plays chords or drones. But at times, Hollenberg will lean into a more guitar-like style and play in duet with Gates. Meanwhile, Grohowski’s drums lay impossible patterns beneath, not only giving structure but also propelling each piece forward. 

Sally Gates is Titan To Tachyons‘ secret weapon. While she’s a little less well-known than her compatriots, her guitar work is stunning. On “Neutron Wrangler” she manages to parallel Dave Tiso’s jazz-metal contortions, Human Remains’ volume-knob stutters, and Marc Ribot’s avant-rock leads in equal measure. Meanwhile, “Critical Paranoia” summons the spirit of King Crimson and “Wax Hypnotic” hints at Mr. Bungle and the Flying Luttenbachers. Ultimately, though, her vocabulary on her instrument is vast and her voice is all her own.

Vonals is no shred-fest, but it’s consistently obvious that these are some of the highest caliber musicians active today. There is an emphasis on texture and composition that takes precedence over any need to show off. Yet it’s that much more impressive that the performances can leave one in awe and they probably aren’t even trying. This album is a fantastic follow-up to the group’s debut and hopefully is a sign of more great work to come.

Todd Manning

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