Psyclon Nine – Icon of the Adversary – music review

with Nero Bellum of Psyclon Nine

After seeing Psyclon Nine play three shows and listening for years, I am blown away by how tight the band and Nero’s sounds are at the moment. Psyclon plays music that sounds like a whirling hurricane with gnashing teeth devouring everything around, including your own psyche. That is a great sound and a powerful idea for industrial music, but it is so intense that it really requires the band to be in top form in order to capture the full vision. The last couple of years have seen them reaching new peaks, and what always sounds to me like a deep punk influence over electronic noise is sharp, edgy, and abrasive in a friendly and powerful way.

Psyclon is really Nero Bellum, just like Nine Ince Nails is Trent Reznor, but there is an amazing live band that plays with Nero. It includes Jon Siren on drums almost always. A member of the live incarnation of IAMX also, he contributes intense and fast but subtle rhythms that are a part of the live experience of Psyclon Nine which is truly mind blowing and transporting for a venue. To be at their show is to be wrapped up in a whirling wall of sounds that whip the audience into a frenzy and seem to leave your mind adjusted into a completely different place. The last tour also had Tim Skold on guitar, and hearing him shred out industrial rhythms against Jon’s drumming was an epic and moving experience. It was about as perfect a live band as industrial music can ever see, and it inspired Nero to be as much on edge and on the attack with his microphone and wild jumping around the stage as could ever happen. 3 Kings in Denver is a great venue for industrial shows, dark and dingy with good beer and a tight space in front of the stage, but the band really used the small space to create a next level experience.

Nero Bellum with Psyclon Nine
Nero Bellum with Psyclon Nine at 3 Kings Tavern in Denver, 12/9/18

The music breaks apart everything that seems normal, and that is part of its dark industrial beauty. Nero portrays a world of facades that needs to be discarded and broken out of. So his music is a chaotic whirlwind of breaking all those things down. Whatever seemed stable about ourselves isn’t after encountering his songs. Psyclon Nine shows are some of the oddest and darkest senses of the world shifting around, and it seems like a high speed punk infused electronic version of psychedelia that’s designed to break through to another very strange place. 

Sounds of Chaos

Icon of the Adversary is a powerful new album that explores quieter sounds than most of Nero’s releases. His sounds have seemed to have stronger punk roots than most industrial, a lot like Suicide Commando, but the real talent for Psyclon Nine is most especially in the synths. Nero experiments profusely with modular sounds, and his synth creations have an odd brilliance to them. I take that as being the source for some of the slower haunting sounds the new album experiments with, because the show was very different. It was an intense attack that was as aggressive and powerful as the band has ever been and was the best of the three very good shows I’ve seen from them. The calmer band I thought I might see in line with the new album wasn’t present in favor of beautiful sonic assaults that highlighted aggressive songs from the band’s whole career including heavier bits of the new album, like Crown of the Worm.

Nero has a fascinating energy on stage. He bounces around and hops into the audience like a crazy person with springs. It has to be seen to be appreciated. There is a serious performance art with fronting a band, and his version takes a lot of energy to realize in line with how loopy and aggressive the songs are. It’s a hard thing to achieve, because electronic production makes it a lot easier to record that on an album than to perform it live. So I always think that how focused Nero is will make a big difference to the live show, and he is sharp as a razor of late. Having Jon Siren consistently back the band on drums is part of the mix as well, because he is able to deliver those rapid and heavy sounds without fail when other drummers would find much of what he plays hard to deliver.

Nero with Psyclon Nine

The new album does a lot to capture the whirling energy that the best songs have and bring new dimensions to that. The trope of seeing black in gothic and industrial settings gets so familiar that it sometimes feels like people need to think of ways to justify it. Psyclon Nine does, with what seems like a moving wall of blackness all over the sounds. It seems like an odd version of psychedelia fused with punk and insanity, and even though the songs are aggressive, they seem honest rather than angry. Part of the fun is that the band puts forward one of the most aggressive attacks in music, but it manages to seem friendly in every guise.

Surrealism has a real place in Nero’s music. So many songs find falsity in our surroundings that it seems like his music crashes through normality to open some other world or layer beneath it. I see large shades of surrealist ideas throughout industrial music, and it’s not surprising. As an art movement, surrealism captured a very disruptive vein of thought. Based on Freud’s psychology, it views the world as fundamentally unreal and following the logic of dreams, a mere production of our minds. Industrial songs often take on questions of humanity and selfhood and mechanistic facades about our lives. The influence of electronic club music also carries a strong vein of psychedelia. Much like a David Lynch film, surrealist art becomes a way of showing the world to be different from what we thought and to have hidden workings. That is also a part of the long influence of occultism on rock, which is in essence a way of viewing the real parts of the world as hidden. Music has generally held a love for this, because sounds are ephemeral. We can’t see and touch them, but we strongly feel them within us. So using a chaotic sonic attack to open a dreamworld inside of us makes a great deal of sense as an important idea to pursue in music.

Tim Skold with Psyclon Nine
Tim Skold playing with Psyclon Nine

The December show at 3 Kings with MXMS opening made the point very well. Tim Skold was a profoundly accomplished guitarist to see perform, and his own work on The Undoing album is exceptional. He has an obvious love for and understanding of industrial music and in his own work is profusely experimental in pursuing it. He is a much admired up and coming industrial artist, and he has fashioned his guitar playing around that style of music to profound effect. He sounds like crashing rhythms mixed with bits of melody, and it really pushes the instrument to sound like an electronic monster rather than traditional playing.

with Jon Siren
with Jon Siren

Jon Siren also stands out for his work with IAMX. They are no doubt one of the best industrial bands and one of the best bands working in music today, an expressive and unique artistic world made by its leader, Chris Corner. Jon is part of IAMX’s live version, and he has the odd status of being one of the best drummers in the world but of working primarily live with industrial artists who use electronic drums of their own on albums. Where the enormous skill comes in is that those electronic sounds are hard to translate to real instruments. He is able to draw those sounds together into tight and rapid rhythms with genuine emotional depth that powers the rest of the band. 

Icon of the Adversary

Going through the album, every song is strong, and the whole work is much more varied than Nero’s other releases. It tells a larger story that captures a lot of what Psyclon Nine stands for. There are fast and furious songs, especially some of the opening tracks, but then the album descends into songs that are a bit calmer but still very heavy, a different sound but with common Psyclon Nine themes at work. Nero seems to be using the calmer tracks to portray a descent into an abyss and a calm place of opposition to the world. His love of chaos is there, but it seems that he becomes the eye of the storm on the slower songs. Willing to explore quieter sounds, they show an important part of his exceptional ability to find creative synth sounds. The Light of Armageddon portrays the end of the world as a good thing for escaping corruption and lies, and its high speed attack gives way to Beware the Wolves as a slower track that sounds like it’s echoing from some strange place we never get to see with bright keyboard sounds seeming like bits of magic lighting up against a grinding song that could be doom metal if it weren’t so electronic. It very much sounds like Nero managed to break through to a different place. Warm What’s Hollow slows things even more, with beautiful electronic echoes against vocals from Nero that sound more like demonic whispers than his usual screech, and he asks for chaos to reign over us in his lyrics.

Admiring chaos is a frequent motif for Psyclon Nine songs, but they also knit those chaotic forces into a beautiful organic whole that’s aimed at freedom and release rather than harm. Like in the music of Behemoth, chaos is a way to break free of obstructions rather than a way to be destructive in any negative sense. Behold an Icon proclaims the death of god, and it sounds a lot like a John Carpenter movie, especially Prince of Darkness, with the twist that Nero sounds hopeful about apocalyptic life. When the Last Stars Die picks things up, but still with a drudging heaviness brought into industrial that is more often heard in doom metal bands like Electric Wizard as Nero sings, “Every god will have his day,” with more celebration about god being dead as he proclaims that the world is dying so much that we will see the very last stars die, a romantic image of the end.

Nero Bellum of Psyclon Nine

And with Fire then sounds like a call for release, and the music indeed has the rising sound that one can associate with flames as things pick up with a fierce and more typical song. The metaphors are interesting, because this can be associated with infernal things, but it also has to do with cleansing. The lyrics resemble a satanic prayer to nothingness, with Nero expressing how we never asked to exist on earth in the first place and should be excited to have emptiness free us. Psyclon Nine treats everything that makes us who we are in this life as ephemeral and false, an illusion wrapped around us waiting to fall away. The album portrays a powerful journey of the self out of a world of falsity, and the concluding song of The Last is a more personal call for redemption and prayer. It expresses regret for mistakes and suggests that we all need release and saving from mistakes of our lives that are a part of the trap of human existence. It seems like more of a journey than previous releases and might be their most addictive album yet, with an intensely overpowering atmosphere.

Looking back at earlier albums, Psyclon Nine seems to have got things going with a strong dose of punk influence across industrial, and this is my easiest way of making sense of the intense sounds on Divine Infekt which was recently remastered and celebrated. It sounds like a punk version of an electronic haunted house, and it’s opening sample of “We all deserve a life in hell,” sets up the band’s trajectory in a powerful and oddly beautiful way. It’s not clear whether it’s a satanic line or one that regrets human sin and guilt. I love this, because the genre has stronger punk roots than is often realized. I spent time at punk shows looking to make sense of what that aesthetic has done for industrial sounds, and the influence is impressive. Punk’s aggressive simplicity and love for emotional purity opens up a breakage of things we take for granted, and it has a pure sense of doing things for yourself. Underground industrial artists live that out quite a bit but with more experimentation and a serious experimental dose of electronic sounds. It allows for the elevation of underground music to a pure and challenging art form. 

Psyclon Nine is a fascinating display of industrial music’s punk roots as well as the capability of synth sounds within it. Those are the big standouts, and the way Nero shapes those things into primal forces and sounds is entirely unique. The band is a true personal vision, and it’s one that wraps its audience up in its dark and fluid embrace. The easiest comparisons for me are some of the darkest of metal bands, Danzig and Behemoth. They both create incredible atmosphere that is demonically dark but liberating, and they are some of the most influential and loved bands in metal. Psyclon Nine is a distinctly industrial creation, because Nero’s mastery of electronics is expressive and original, but the heavy speed and pervasive darkness seeking release found in his whirling sounds brings in a lot of metal and punk themes better than most industrial bands have managed to equal. If metal audiences find out more about them, the crowds will likely grow quite a lot, but this is a band that loves to be underground, fierce, and unique, and the industrial scene has a lot appreciation for them in line with that.

Nero Bellum fronting Psyclon Nine

You may also like these