#1
Quote by Kytokinesis


Psychotronic movie is a term coined by film critic Michael J. Weldon—referred to by a fellow critic as "the historian of marginal movies"—to denote the sort of low-budget genre pictures that are generally disdained or ignored entirely by the critical establishment.

The kind of wtf movies you see on at 2 am on retro tv stations.

Since this is a metal forum, we'll obviously need the album equivalents of these movies. Obscure, low-budget albums with a unifying theme/imagery of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. Endeavors of creativity just a few cards short of a full deck, destined for the 'miscellaneous' section of the record store shelf from the moment it was conceptualized.

On this week's edition of Saturday Night Psychotronics:

"For persistence of existence and the future of our kind,
breaking up from all we know of and the doomed ones left behind."

---

"Rings, spread like rippled water, fleeting...
the portal closing whence we came, vanishing like a mirage.
One step from extinction - the remainders of a world,
flee the threat of oblivion on a path of no return.
Irretrievably lost, destination unknown - blindly wandering, forever...?"

Oxiplegatz - Sidereal Journey (1998)


Oxiplegatz was the solo project of ex-At the Gates guitarist and songwriter Alf Svensson. Mr. Svensson left At the Gates in 1993 for a number of reasons: he wanted to start a tattoo business, he disliked touring, and he disagreed with the other members about the direction of the band, favoring an experimental sound to a streamlined one. In relation to the last reason, Mr. Svensson grew frustrated when his band mates hindered his creativity:

Quote by Alf Svensson (1997)
I can't stand it when people interfere with my ideas. I want to be in total control and free to follow my every whim. Music is always better when created by one individual. I hardly think that any of the old composers like Puccini, Schubert or Mahler would have accepted to get their ideas voted down by others? I personally had enough of this with At the Gates.

Mr. Svensson subsequently used Oxiplegatz as an unadulterated outlet for his experimental, eccentric, and twisted musical ideas. Sidereal Journey, the third and last Oxiplegatz album, tells the story of beings that flee into space when a black hole encroaches upon and devours their home world. The beings encounter breathtaking and frightening scenes as they search the universe for a new abode. The album consists of one long composition, in part to better tell the story and in part because Mr. Svensson felt "sickened by the way all music is essentially the same, in structure and melody." He sought to construct music in a manner different than most do:

Quote by Alf Svensson
I was set to do what I had wanted from the very beginning: an album that was one piece of music; not split up into a number of tracks. I had long thought it a bit too convenient; create a few scraps of music, put them in succession and repeat them over and over a few times and zip! There's a song... No, I wanted to do it more thoroughly, writing a story and letting the music follow its different turns and moods, blending together along the way, without repeating itself more than necessary... I also wanted the sound to alter at different parts, better to fit the story, using a wide range of instruments.

Musically, the foundation of Sidereal Journey is metal. Fans of early At the Gates will recognize the character of some of the harmonized, tremolo-picked guitar lines, but they will not find the brutality or the morbid severity of that band. Instead, they will find a variety of riffs (death metal, heavy metal, doom metal, and other styles), along with features like "ambient" synthesizer interludes and segments that might fit in an opera or musical. Thus, Sidereal Journey is musically diverse. Due to this quality and to the theatrical performance, the album presents itself more as a "metal space opera" than as a pure metal album. Regarding his musical influences, Mr. Svensson said the following:

Quote by Alf Svensson (1997)
I try to get influenced as little as possible from other music. "Getting inspiration" sounds pretty much the same to me as "stealing ideas from others". To be true, I haven't bought a CD in the last two years, because I never have time to listen to them anyway. So I'm not really following what has happened in the scene lately. I kind of lost interest when most bands that I like left the old death metal style and evolved into something less inventive or aggressive... I still like a lot of old stuff though, like Napalm Death's Harmony Corruption, the first Deicide, Incubus' Beyond the Unknown, almost everything with Bolt Thrower, Macabre, and Discharge... I listen mostly to opera, medieval music, and music from the early part of this century, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and all their Swedish likes.

Listeners might notice a similarity between Mr. Svensson's singing style and the so-called crooner music that he mentioned above. Other styles of lyrical delivery appear as well; the vocals on Sidereal Journey, like the music, are diverse. Male and female voices serve different functions: the former usually narrates with an intensity and form appropriate for the current scene, whereas the latter expresses the hopes and despairs of the travelers. Synthesizers also play a significant role: they contribute to the spacey atmosphere and aesthetic, increase the grandeur and dramatic intensity of the music, and add tonal color. As far as harmonic choices are concerned, an interplay of consonance and dissonance maintains emotional balance and juxtaposes the aspirations of the protagonists with the cold, uncaring, and even threatening nature of the universe.

Several pieces of evidence suggest that Mr. Svensson specifically created and sculpted most of the music on Sidereal Journey to fit the story. First, Sidereal Journey is very focused; it contains no blatantly superfluous or digressive material. Second, although some themes repeat when relevant, almost no large-scale repetition occurs because the story proceeds into the unknown. Third, sudden changes in the mood or style of the music exist not to satisfy the whims of the composer, but rather to mirror rapid developments in the plot or to resemble scene shifts in films. Fourth, short interludes serve a variety of functions: they allow the imagination to develop / explore the scenes depicted and the emotions expressed in the more active sections; they represent downtime during the voyage; they build or release tension, depending on context; and they smooth transitions. Fifth, the music always "sounds like" what is happening in the tale. In aspects such as these, Sidereal Journey feels like music as a means of storytelling.

Some listeners will inevitably brand this album as cheesy due to its science fiction theme, the timbres of the synthesizers, or Mr. Svensson's singing style. Lyrics like the following are indeed uncommon in the metal genre, especially when delivered in epic fashion:

"The iondrive a silent vibration through the itinerant moon, a world asleep within its womb,
a starship ever accelerating, engines thrusting full, approaching lightspeed - powerful.
Instruments set to compensate if anomalies were to occur,
the fabric of space is twisted.
Mass and inertia fluctuates when close to the speed of light
the laws of physics shifted."

However, I think that not taking this album seriously would be a mistake. In my view, Sidereal Journey is clearly a sincere work of art, no matter how strange the aesthetic and subject matter, so it should be treated as such. I suspect that listeners will enjoy and appreciate the music more if they approach it in this way. They might even find themselves singing along.

Those who can adjust to the superficial weirdness and harmonic language of Sidereal Journey will discover music that is full of memorable and moving moments. Personally, I have little interest in science fiction topics, but this album captures my attention nevertheless because Mr. Svensson tells the tale convincingly, and because the plot is analogous to possibilities of human experience. Sidereal Journey offers a rewarding and satisfying adventure, gives an admirable and ambitious example of explicit / literal narrative composition, and realizes a vision of a progression of metal music.

Quote by Alf Svensson
My purpose with Oxiplegatz has always been to experiment and create something different from the main stream. Well - nothing is absolutely new in the metal genre today, but I feel that I have at least succeeded in adding some variation to it...

Advice for listening to Sidereal Journey for the first time:
  • Read the lyrics.
  • Try to listen to the whole album. As Mr. Svensson said, "For the first time-listener the album may feel a bit awkward to start with, but I think after a few minutes one gets the feeling of it as it gains substance and continuity further on."
  • Ignore the track partitions. The only purpose of the segmentation is to conveniently allow returning listeners to enter the story at a desired scene.
Listen to Sidereal Journey on YouTube (gapless playback, but maybe lower quality)
Listen to Sidereal Journey on bandcamp (maybe higher quality, but not necessarily gapless playback)

Sources / further information:
Interview with Alf Svensson, April, 1997
Oxiplegatz artist page at Season of Mist

If you really enjoy Sidereal Journey, you can purchase a copy from Season of Mist for 5 USD.

----- ----- ----- ----- -----

Coming to a listening box near you:

Oct. 22: Kytokinesis
Last edited by P1ayingW1thF1re at Oct 15, 2016,
#2
This was literally my first choice for last week but I thought it was too good so I went with Trop Feross

My taste is trash, I'll take it. Great album!
#3
It's true, I broke the rules by posting an album that I think is really good. That's interesting that this was your first choice too!
#4
Holy shit, that's a great write up, PWF. I know I've listened to this before a long time ago. The title and the artwork are really familiar. I'll give my thoughts about it after I listen.

I'm sure Vincent Price would be proud.
Who are you? The prince of darkness? Don't you have any friends?


#5
Quote by P1ayingW1thF1re
It's true, I broke the rules by posting an album that I think is really good. That's interesting that this was your first choice too!


Great minds think alike. Or sometimes it's coincidence.

Either way, great write up. Alf seems very out there, and I am glad he saw what AtG were becoming and ejected himself from AtG directly into outer space.
#6
You didn't break the rules. They aren't necessarily supposed to be bad albums. I just wanted to capture the feeling of these psychotronic movies... That are generally deemed to be B, C, or Z genre material or exploitative, or too experimental. They really churned those out by the truckloads. In music, though, it doesn't really seem to be a thing. It's looser. I wanted to make it a thing. I understand how narrow a niche it is though. Would it be better if we just did 'genre' albums in general, like The Key or Nightfall in Middle Earth? Serious question.

But Sidereal Journey is a great example of what I was going for, I'm enjoying listening to it.
Who are you? The prince of darkness? Don't you have any friends?


#7
Thanks for the compliments.
Quote by Kytokinesis
You didn't break the rules. They aren't necessarily supposed to be bad albums.
Oh, I know. I didn't think that Cyberya or Trop Féross were bad. I knew that Sidereal Journey fit the theme, that Oxiplegatz is relatively obscure, and that this album was probably "destined for the 'miscellaneous' section of the record store shelf from the moment it was conceptualized," but you also specified "endeavors of creativity just a few cards short of a full deck," a description that does not apply to this album in my opinion.
I understand how narrow a niche it is though. Would it be better if we just did 'genre' albums in general, like The Key or Nightfall in Middle Earth? Serious question.
I don't have a strong opinion about this. Specific themes can be fun, and I like the idea of exposing people to albums unfamiliar to them, but I also like the idea of filling in potential listening gaps by covering classics or better known albums sometimes.
Last edited by P1ayingW1thF1re at Oct 16, 2016,
#8
Well, my definition maybe isn't so good. As for the other thing, I was wondering if that would spark more interest, ie get more people participating.
Who are you? The prince of darkness? Don't you have any friends?