The third album from a gnostically-minded Canadian ex-pat who goes by Baph Tripp (I know, it’s a story we’ve heard so many times), Psychomachy is a brief suite of self-released, noisy industrial that makes nods to powernoise, but ends up covering a wide range of sonic territory in its 31 minutes. Featuring a sample-heavy blend of industrial noise and metal guitars with an eye to mysticism, Psychomachy brought to mind the almost entirely overlooked French act The Bleeding Light (though the metal/industrial polarity is reversed here, with the latter clearly being X.A.O.S’ home base), and managed to win me over despite a couple of weak tracks and some spotty production.
Things start out in what seems to be straightforward powernoise terrain: you’ve got your grinding, mid-range heavy noise up front and center wound into tight rhythmic loops which occasionally cede the floor to cold pads or leads, as on “Walking Dead” or the solidly bumping “A Higher Purpose”. After first hearing these opening tracks I noticed myself listening to the rest of the disc with a framework of powernoise expectations, but on the second listen I realised that this wasn’t the best approach. The guitars subtly welded to strong opener “Nil8” add shades of industrial metal and dancefloor potential, and show that Tripp isn’t solely interested in the grueling endurance tests for which the most celebrated powernoise producers are famous (that tracks average three and a half minutes is another clue I should’ve picked up on).
The middle third of Psychomachy finds X.A.O.S’ palette widening, with mixed results. “Now Is The Time”‘s minimal, early dark electro, drawling crawl doesn’t hold up, and the goofy but somewhat obvious sample-storm of “Mediocrity” comes across as thin and washed-out. “Utopiate” fares better by adding some nicely varied percussion and having the whole affair wind its way around a hypnotic, nodding center.
Psychomachy closes strongly on two completely disparate notes. The penultimate “Hyperthesis” is by far the album’s most chaotic and truly noise-influenced track, bookended by samples of the old “when you believe in nothing, everything is permitted” maxim (the original source of which, be it Vladimir Bartol, Dostoevsky, or Nietzsche, is now further occluded by its use in Assasin’s Creed) and the perhaps even more challenging claim that “you are not who you are”, a heresy surely directed at the great Biblical “אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה”/”I Am that I Am”. Strong stuff to be sure. Things finish with “I Am Not”, a morose track that’s strikingly reminiscent of Swans side-project Skin’s folky, echoing dirges, and has the album’s best line in “I’ve got time on my hands, and I can’t wash it off.” It would’ve been interesting to hear more of these clean, droning vocals on some of the noisier tracks, or, hell, another track or two in a similarly downbeat vein.
While having been sat on since 2009 for undisclosed reasons, I’d hazard to guess that Psychomachy had a long gestation period before that. Each song feels like it’s contained in its own insular world, and while that allows the listener to focus in on individual intricacies, there is a suturing off of each track from the others which inhibits the flow of the LP. Regardless, it’s a deceptively deep box of nastiness which I found growing on me with each successive listen, and deserves points for the ambition contained within its short run-time.
Psychomachy can be bought from X.A.O.S directly or on iTunes.