My relationship with Ben Chasny's discography has always been a hit-or-miss one, as some of his albums are very much Not For Me, yet I can think of few other artists who are as intensely committed to endlessly evolving and trying out bold new ideas. This latest release is a prime example of that, as The Veiled Sea can be glibly described as "the album where Ben Chasny unleashes some absolutely face-melting shredfests." In characteristically open-minded fashion, Chasny drew inspiration for this album from an extremely unusual source: "'80s American pop shredder" Steve Stevens, who I knew primarily as Billy Idol's guitarist, but who others may recall from the theme from Top Gun (or Michael Jackson's "Dirty Diana"). Given that Top Gun and contemporary psychedelia seem like a truly deranged collision of aesthetics to bring together, I was a bit apprehensive about this release and expected an audaciously over-the-top album that I would probably only listen to once. Instead, it was something considerably more soulful and compelling than I ever expected, as Chasny swings for the fences on a couple of songs and connects beautifully, crafting a pair of the most perfect pieces of his entire career. There is also a wild Faust cover and some more ambient-minded pieces rounding out the album to varying degrees of success, but the only crucial thing to know about The Veiled Sea is that "Last Station, Veiled Sea" may very well be the "must hear" song of the year in underground music circles.
There are technically six songs on The Veiled Sea, but the party does not begin in earnest until the third piece, "All That They Left You." To my ears, it sounds like Carter Tutti Void and A Certain Ratio are jamming with Appetite for Destruction-era Slash, as it is a feast of jangly post-punk guitars, brooding industrial thump, and indulgently fiery hard-rock shredding. There is a catchy song lurking in there too, as the soloing frequently breaks to make room for a haunting, processed-sounding vocal hook (Chasny sounds a bit like a sultry but lovesick robot). For the most part, though, it is simply Chasny ripping shit up on his guitar over a cool, heavy groove and it rules. A brief and likable interlude of tender piano ambiance follows ("Old Dawn"), then the album hits its zenith with "Last Station, Veiled Sea," which unexpectedly resembles This Mortal Coil at first (languorous drones, vaguely androgynous-sounding vocals, a dreamily melancholy mood, etc.). After about three minutes, however, Chasny unleashes an absolute supernova of a guitar solo that is equal parts movingly gorgeous and viscerally violent (it features plenty of Orcutt-esque scrabbling, slashing, and gnarled flourishes). Sadly, it only lasts about ten minutes, but Chasny sounds absolutely possessed and I am sure he could have gone on for another half hour with absolutely no dip at all in soulful intensity at all. Not much could follow such god-tier brilliance, but the surprise Faust cover that closes the album is quite satisfying nonetheless. The bouncy, playful original version of "J'ai Mal aux Dents" sounds like a bunch of mischievous art weirdos jamming on a fake Velvet Underground song. In Chasny's hands, however, it becomes a heavier, more trancelike juggernaut, as he uses a tumbling drum pattern and chanting backing vocals as a propulsive backdrop for a roiling, spacey guitar solo. It is quite a delight, but the main reasons to hear this album are the twin highlights of "All That They Left You" and "Last Station, Veiled Sea," which unavoidably eclipse everything around them.
Samples can be found here.