Skip to content

Jazz-Metal Avant Banjo Nut Brandon Seabrook’s ‘Sylphid Vitalizers’ Is Contagious

Brandon Seabrook / Photo by Michael Weintraub
SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: June 24, 2014
Label: New Atlantis

Led by note-hopping extremists Mick Barr, Mary Halvorson and Weasel Walter, the lethal, yet improbable, overlap of jazz and metal is proving a brutal cross-genre fusion, ascending from the crud-filled depths of Brooklyn’s DIY underworld. Add Brandon Seabrook to that imposing list of titans conquering the field.

An apocalyptic, supersonic general of the banjo (yes, the effing banjo), the ubiquitous Seabrook raises shreddage hell on a regular basis in his Brooklyn home base and beyond. Whether it’s wreaking prog-metal mayhem in Seabrook Power Plant and art-punk noisemongering in Sweet Banditry or playing sideman in improvisational avant-gardist ensemble Black Host and honky tonkin’ jazzsters Mostly Other People Do The Killing, Seabrook has run the proverbial gamut.

Now, he’s offering the obligatory yet essential solo record, further enriching his already vast oeuvre in the form of Sylphid Vitalizers, an epically dense lesson in brain-frying dynamics, fret-stomping virtuosity and banjo annihilation.

As pilot in Seabrook Power Plant (the trio he shares with his drummer/brother Jared and upright bassist Tom Blancarte), the banjoist dabbled in an esoteric vernacular and that ethos is continued on Sylphid Vitalizers — hence, the weirdo album title and sinister song titles like “Mucoidal Woolgathering” and “Selfodomized Poltergeists.” But for his debut record under his own name, Seabrook has shed that band’s Minutemen-inspired jazz-punk and math-rock intricacies for a heroic, finger-fucked chords-and-notes maelstrom that singularly marries trance-metal with the skronk of no wave.

Like the jazz/metal klassikill maestro Barr, Seabrook speed-picks his 1927 four-string tenor banjo (his signature instrument) and a 12-string electric — two banjos notorious in old time jazz — into utter oblivion on Sylphid Vitalizers’s five epics. With prog-metal maven Colin Marston (Dysrhythmia, Krallice, Gorguts) manning the boards, Seabrook, as one-man wrecking crew, layers a mind-altering wall of ecstatic riffage and textures backed by the head hammering death blows of a vintage drum machine, a la black metallers Liturgy.

On both “Ballad of Newfangled Vicissitudes” and “Mucoidal Woolgathering,” Seabrook slashes and burns with an Americana-flavored hardcore cacophony. Meanwhile, 10-minute centerpiece “Selfodomized Poltergeists” sonically destroys with sick industrial metal salvos before morphing into guitar orchestra noise chimes a la Glenn Branca and Sonic Youth.

Intensely wired and seizure-inducing, Sylphid Vitalizers combines the insane thrash of Slayer’s Reign in Blood and the dissonance of Branca’s The Ascension with the mid-80’s skronk of SY, in the meantime transforming an instrument identifiable with country, bluegrass, folk and cathartic back porch settings, into a terror-inducing Black and Decker power drill.