As a performer, Young Gods' frontman Franz Treichler is Jim Morrison reincarnate. He stands with his eyes closed, sweaty hair in his face, arms outstretched as if he wants to fly or be crucified, and his voice vacillates between a painful whisper and a determined howl. He clutches the microphone stand as if it were the lever in the cockpit of a spaceship ready for takeoff to the endless sky. As songwriter for the Gods, his music reaches for a celestial terrain, full of the exultation of spiritual yearnings and visions, untouched by the mundane and the ephemeral. After all, he grew up on the Doors and early Pink Floyd, and what are the Gods if not art-rock set to a noisy beat?
Last year's Only Heaven was a buoyantly eerie and wildly exuberant barrage of thunderous guitar samples and frantic tribal drumming with interludes of dark ambient sound. With cuts like the 17-minute-long "Moon Revolutions," itself a whirlwind of a mindfuck, and the relentless "Speed of Night," the sixth Young Gods album is wide in scope and stunningly original. An underrated treasure of 1995, it fleetingly touches upon industrial, thrash metal, and techno before it flies toward the infinite with wings of its own. At moments, it is brutally abrasive as the sampler wheezes and screeches over bone-crushing rhythms; other times, it is ethereally beautiful and delicate.
Overall, the record is less of a sonic assault than the 1987 self-titled debut, which was sung in the Gods' native French, or 1992's T.V. Sky, but Only Heaven never loses the band's trademark teeth-gnashing intensity. No other band makes machines sound as human as this Swiss power trio, and no other band can rock so hard without a stringed instrument in sight.
The guitar samples are unrecognizable, quite a contrast to the all-natural hyperkinetic drum beats. For the Gods, rock and roll is a universal language that speaks to the soul, not a formula, and the band is proof it doesn't matter what and how you play, but why you play it. It's the difference between vision and ambition, between rocking out and using rock as an elevating force.
Last August at Trees, the Young Gods performed a visceral set of mind-bending psychedelia. As Treichler sang about kissing the sun and swimming in the sky, his delivery was intense and drenched in sweat. His fascinating voice quivered and growled with equal amounts of awe and jubilation. His body contorted, unable to control the richly textured sounds invading each and every pore like tiny charged electrodes. And the music, a beautifully physical mutation of earthy paganism and digital cyberpunk, exploded into space, creating a rare transcendental moment.
Young Gods perform May 1 at Trees.