Based around an expansive sci-fi narrative that takes place in the mind of a comatose man, the debut album from newly-founded project Tronos is the sort of ambitious endeavour that could surely only be created by those with an instinctive creative rapport. It’s no surprise then, that the self-proclaimed “ambient psych doom metal” outfit is the result of a collaboration from Napalm Death‘s Shane Embury and the legendary grindcore band’s longtime producer Russ Russell, who have been friends and collaborators for some time now.
Together, the duo have crafted a sound that proves versatile and dynamic, drifting from ultra-heavy and nightmarish periods to moments that feel almost joyous in their uplifting power – for every Strapping Young Lad-esque riff there’s an ambient moment of ethereal transcendence.
Though their being backed up by current Megadeth and ex-Soilwork drummer Dirk Verbeuren surely qualifies Tronos for the dreaded supergroup status, Celestial Mechanics is no disappointment. Bolstered by guest appearances from the likes of Faith No More‘s Billy Gould, Snake from Voivod, thrash icon Dan Lilker, Troy Sanders of Mastodon and even Erica Nockalls from The Wonder Stuff, Celestial Mechanics is a gargantuan slab of otherworldly metal executed masterfully by an impressive roster of accomplished musicians.
Embury’s penchant for skull-rattling metal is used to full effect here, but despite this being another name in a growing list of experiments (Malformed Earthborn, Meathook Seed, Blood From The Soul) for the Napalm Death bassist, Tronos is just as much (if not more so) the product of Russell’s unique vision, not to mention his ear for intensity, which has undoubtedly developed through his work producing for the likes of At The Gates, The Bezerker and Sikth.
In the press release, Russell talks of the album being a trip, with “sequences mapped out to the rhythms of the brain and body, oscillations that enhance the journey of the music by stimulating multiple facets of the mind”, but he also tells us there’s some real-world parallels to be found within. Eager to find out just what the hell he was on about, we posed some questions to the idiosyncratic producer…
How did the project first come about and what was the original idea? Does the finished product differ from what the initial outline was in any way?
The two of us have worked together and been close friends for over 20 years now and spent many nights discussing our musical backgrounds, our love of music that conjures emotion, about sounds that inspire the imagination, and we came up with the idea that we wanted to make hellish apocalyptic noise combined with floaty ethereal ambience. So after many years of talking about it we decided to give it a go and Tronos was born. I think we nailed our initial concept but took it even further than perhaps we anticipated.
Shane and yourself have worked together before of course, how does this project differ from what you’ve worked on in the past? Does that history and the fact that you know each other well help when it comes to making music?
Well most of what we’ve worked on previously was much faster than this album for sure *laughs*, but you can see glimpses of this type of approach in some of the more experimental Napalm Death tracks we’ve done over the years – we just took it further and combined other elements.
We know each other so well we’re pretty much telepathic in the studio, we know what each other are doing and thinking without need for discussion, and we’re so much on the same frequency that its incredibly easy writing and recording together. It all flows so smoothly because we’re always pushing in the same direction. When Dirk came along on drums this just added the third mighty pillar of Tronos, he was instantly on our wavelength and added a whole new dimension to the songs through his amazing rhythmic interpretations.
Can you tell us a bit about the sci-fi themes behind the album?
There’s a story which runs through a few parts of the album basically about a man in an induced coma, trapped inside his own mind as his body is shipped through space on its way to a new Utopia. The earth is dying, scorched by the war between malevolent gods and the beasts risen from hell. He descends through the levels of madness in his own personal hell – will he escape from his own mind? Will he escape from the dying planet and arrive in Utopia?
Though sci-fi can obviously tell fantastical tales of worlds and people unlike anything we’ll ever see, it can also comment on our society and humanity – are there any real-world parallels that this album and its concept aim to make? Would you say its narrative is more optimistic or pessimistic about humanity and its future?
Exactly. The basic story outlined above is a thinly-veiled look at mankind and how we’ve fucked it all up – the earth is dying and the world leaders are sending it to hell, will mankind live on? Will we leave the planet by space craft, by uploading our consciousness to some mondo mainframe, or simply by leaving our earthly bodies behind and flowing back into the universe to live on as one true collective energy? Which we already are, of course.
The album features a host of guest appearances. How did those come about? Did you go into it wanting to have lots of collaborators?
Shane didn’t want to play bass on this album so he asked some friends if they would like to jam on the record. Billy, Troy and Dan all said yes so we were lucky enough to have three supremely talented bass players. Shane bumped into Snake from Voivod, they are longtime friends, and Shane told him about the project and he gladly joined in on a couple of songs, then Shane was at a The Wonder Stuff show and was chatting to Erica and she expressed great interest in the project and delivered some fantastic performances, all of them added huge depth and character and we are eternally grateful.
Celestial Mechanics is obviously a heavy album, but it’s also quite exploratory and ambient in places, did you set out with the intention of making something that sounded a bit different?
Yeah the combination of light and dark was the original idea really, morphing together hugely contrasting sounds and making powerful mood changes. It was really just for our own pleasure, to satisfy our diverse musical inspirations, but listeners seem to be really picking up on that stuff. We’ve had some great messages from people describing what emotions they felt and what they could see in their imaginations at various points of the album, it’s wonderful to hear that.
Do you think experimentation in heavy music is important for pushing it forward? Do you think there’s enough of it at the moment?
Yeah I think there’s a great movement of experimentation going on in heavy music. I was out at Roadburn Festival [review here!] in Holland recently and there were incredible sounds coming from everywhere – there was so much choice I just couldn’t see everything I wanted to. I think we’d go down really well there.
What inspired the music, be it other music or external factors?
We obviously have many influences from many diverse bands, I’m sure you can hear some of them in our music, but I’d rather not say who simply because I think it gives a preconceived idea to the listener. Also, it’s amazing hearing back from people what they think they can hear in it – we’ve had some crazy comparisons. Plus I guess the time we’re living in and the state of the world had a significant influence too, in places.
Are you planning to play any shows with Tronos in the future?
No plans right now but we would definitely like to at least play a few shows and see how it goes, it’s just incredibly hard with all our crazy schedules.
Celestial Mechanics is out now on Century Media Records. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr