Tuesday 8 August 2017

ALBUM REVIEW: Sunrot - "Sunnata"

By: Mark Ambrose

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 4/08/2017
Label: Independent


Those who take the plunge into “Sunnata” will still be blown away by the fierce musical skill, emotional honesty, and undeniable potential of Sunrot.  Their truly exceptional full-length debut has set a high benchmark that, one hopes, is only the opening chapter of a lengthy, groundbreaking career.

“Sunnata” CD//DD track listing

1. A Void
2. Agonal State
3. Gormandize
4. Ossuary
5. Aorta
6. Angry Downer
7. Death’s King
8. Riverbed
9. The One You Feed (Part 1.)
10. Aether
11. Freedom

The Review

After the eruption of extreme metal hybrids in the de facto American music “hubs” – Brooklyn, Austin, LA, San Francisco, Portland – you’d expect the classic rock cycle patterns to emerge: small bands outgrow their local scenes, pick up stakes and move to the big cities to make it with the major players.  And yet some of the most unlikely spots have been blessed with cadres committed to DIY ethos, local venue development, and inexpensive but professional recording options.  Portland (Maine), Richmond, Minneapolis, Louisville and countless other towns have been pushing back against musical inferiority complexes to become their own distinct incubation centers.  Even the suburban to urban sprawl of my native New Jersey boasts one of the most active musical landscapes in decades, lurking quietly in the shadows of New York and Philadelphia.  The members of Sunrot and a good selection of their peers have embodied and, in many instances, propelled this enclave from dire straits to a remarkably inclusive and diverse community.  Sunnata”, the full-length debut of this “noise power-sludge quartet”, proves Sunrot aren’t just local scene superstars.  This is as assured, confident, and essential a debut as you’re likely to hear this year

From opener “A Void,” “Sunnata” thrums with noise collages – tracks that roil with feedback, layered electronic manipulations, spoken word samples, and eerie guitar chords – that sound positively Lynchian (especially in the case of “Angry Downer”).  But Sunrot does not sequester its experimentation in segue tracks, as “Agonal State” builds on a haunting hardcore riff and ghostly spoken word, before launching into a doom-meets-industrial mayhem.  Lead vocalist Lex Nihilum’s delivery is particularly haunting, an agonal bellow that, in moments of subtly quavering intensity, conveys raw emotion more effectively than half the singers in any genre.  The economic and precise rhythm work of Eustaquio, Kaminsky and Gonzalez highlights an exceptionally honed musical organism on the menacing and shifting “Gormandize”.  Kaminsky’s bass tone is all fuzz and heft, while Gonzalez lays down complex rhythms with remarkable restraint and clockwork precision.

Ossuary” kicks in with a pitch black lead like a folk song from hell.  Whenever departing from the heavy sludge riffing that propels “Sunnata”, guitarist Chris Eustaquio displays remarkably diverse influences, ranging from Appalachian bluegrass to eastern tinged mystical psychedelia to dreamy shoegaze passages.  The back-to-back attack of “Ossuary” and “Aorta” is a perfect balance of violence and beauty: Stephen Edwards (Inertia) provides guest vocals on the “Ossuary,” adding gruff, low-end heft, while the ethereal melodies and Nihilum’s higher register transforms “Aorta” into a transcendent escape from the boneyard.  It’s a brief respite, however, as “Death’s King” plunges back into trudging doom despair.  Like some perverse inversion of the Pixies “formula,” Sunrot manages to pull off loud-chaos-LOUDER without losing an ounce of sincerity.  Riverbed” pulls back from the haunted depths, rocking like 90s hardcore, complete with Sunrot’s unique twist on gang vocals: a collapse into layered, incoherent chaos before coalescing for the closing breakdown.  The One You Feed (Part 1.)” may be as close as Sunrot ever comes to a ballad, swirling around a repeated lyric – “Who do you feed…” – that, in Nihilum’s delivery, is pure, emotional napalm.  Bonus points for the most effective sample of Dionne Warwick in the history of metal.  Aether” serves as a final statement of “Sunnata”’s grand themes: torment, transformation, existential horror.  As Lex belts “I am free now, in the void”, “Sunnata dares” you to look over the precipice and leap off, into the swirling void made sonic reality of “Freedom” – as apt a metaphor for dissolution as I’ve ever heard.

Sunrot have established themselves as local titans, cross-genre collaborators, and remarkable performers.  As they set out with Philadelphia’s God Root to support “Sunnata”’s release, they’re likely to explode from their cozy local collective, if only on the power of their live intensity.  On their own terms, they’ve helped establish a scene any musician would envy.  As openers for titans like Eyehategod, Cro-Mags, and Thou, they’re likely to inspire a few imitators and DIY enthusiasts in environs even more dire than the industrial wastes of New Jersey.  But those who take the plunge into “Sunnata” will still be blown away by the fierce musical skill, emotional honesty, and undeniable potential of Sunrot.  And with their truly exceptional full-length debut, Sunrot has set a high benchmark that, one hopes, is only the opening chapter of a lengthy, groundbreaking career.

Sunnata” is available for download here

Band info: bandcamp || facebook