Led by brilliant and versatile guitarist Sally Gates, Titan to Tachyons is a new trio with Matt Hollenberg on bass and Kenny Grohowski drums. The latter pair also form two-thirds of Simulacrum, a keyboard-driven technical metal trio that performs music penned by John Zorn. To be released August 14, Cactides consists of five medium-length instrumental tracks that are influenced by 50 years of metal and progressive rock, rearranged and mutilated for 2020. But Gates and company go beyond the tropes of these genres, incorporating heavy riffing, speed picking, feedback, and arpeggiated chords into unconventional structures and throwing in a dash of open improvisation here and there.
Case in point, the ponderous themes of Tycho Magnetic would feel familiar to any fan of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, but also feature the cerebral atmospherics of early King Crimson as well as the circular melodies common to Zorn compositions. Representative of the album as a whole, this track also exhibits effortless shifts in tempos and textures, as Gates changes up playing style and effects pedals. Hollenberg’s playing mostly follows and accentuates that of Gates, while Grohowski’s signature maximalist drumming style is relentlessly active.
Everybody’s Dead, Dave (Red Dwarf reference!) also features Trevor Dunn on bass, and is the most abstract cut of the album. The foursome explores colors and moods in a deliberately-paced fashion, as well as start / stop rhythms that cross over into a combination of avant-rock and thrash metal. A second guitar track seems to be present and it is hard to tell whether it is from Hollenberg or Gates. Regardless, Dunn’s contributions wander around Gates’ most spacious and psychedelic playing of this recording.
For anyone who is disappointed by how slowly the heavy metal genre evolves and progresses, look no further than Cactides as a counterexample to that trend. Gates is a major voice, and Cactides could be her breakout appearance. Well done, indeed.