Album Review: SUNDR - Solar Ships
Artist: Sundr Album: Solar Ships Genre: Post-Metal/Sludge/Drone Review by Mothlord It is hard to know exactly where to start with this review of the impending sophomore full-length release by Sundr.
One perspective is to view the band from the out looking in as an organically enmeshed unit of humbled human beings collaboratively expressing a depth of personal feeling and thought through their music with potent effect.
The other is to experience Sundr from the in looking out to the sea of dispersing and cascading sound and emotion. For the music to be a vessel for transcendent astral experience, rather than one of connecting with a unit of people. I believe that with this record the band have pushed further towards that ethereal experience, now unmoored from the rocky shores drifting further beyond the canvas sea. Solar Ships in name proves itself to authentically shepherd the listener to cosmically emotive realms. Drenched with a depth of emotive richness and honesty. Sundr's song writing is characteristically grandiose, monolithic and ethereal. But simultaneously, poignantly human with a fertile foundation of sincerity and vulnerability that becomes sweetly wombing like a viscous honey. Very carefully, "Younger Dryas" builds trust with the listener as sombre guitars layer with pondering and restrained drum beats. Sundr have never been in a rush towards climactic crests and shifting structures. On this record though there is a noticeable stripping back away from the tropes of "metal" songwriting, though I hesitate to paint the wrong image when I say metal.
There is a focus on creating a sense of drifting gently and carrying of the listener that strangely struck me as being similar to the shoegazing inclinations in some of Deftones works as a quick comparison. This is slow burn story telling, that will not usher in each chapter and each act with abrasive and impatient haste.
It feels an age until singer Scott Curtis anguished and commanding throat peels through the wall of reverb tails. This is something that in a live setting is not an absence of entertainment and crowd engagement as he looms in the pooling of stage lights with hands on head, drifting and swaying in earnest with feeling poured into even the moments he is not bellowing with power.
Just as soon as the drums have risen in defiance of the silence, with the clashing and churning of truly anguished guitars. We retreat back to gentle solace of swimming guitar notes and the rousing groan of bass guitar. This is a nice subversion of expectations. These kinds of delays might perturb those disinclined from delayed gratification. But rest assured, by the near end of the eleven minute journey doors are thrust open to churning and cascading black metal esque tremolo guitars. The wash of sound is accompanied by desperate bellows and the chopping, changing and nigh punishing percussion in defiance of such linear rigidity. "I've Forgotten How To Be Alone", the recently released track and music video takes us through a tenuous introduction that has a clear shift towards the powerfully discordant as harrowing delayed guitar churns in the distance. This is while angular and off kilter patterns of kick drum, toms and even the rim of the drum shells clicking together quirkily are accompanied by the weaving of soulful blues tinged bass guitar. I very much appreciate the subtle use of bass chords for a four piece band. They assist in expanding the width of tone and melody available which for such spacious music, is very welcome. As expected, as heralded by a terrifying vocal wail. All elements collide and strike confidently, flooring with wall of doomed guitar chords designed to crush and pave their way through any emotional walls the listener had up.
There is a continual and lingering sense of defined and harrowing honesty that bleeds between the pound and clash of instrumentation that is emotionally claustrophobic. I find myself thinking somewhat of the darker emotive palette fellow Australian, post-black metal act Départe paint with. This seems to resonate clearly with meaning of the song as articulated by Scott Curtis, whose vocals on this track reach a peak of depraved and abject despondence as vocal chords twist and strain to express. “The song is about ‘the tragedy we don’t talk about’, anxiety, fear and depression silently creeping into our homes and lives, even in the seemingly mundane aspects of life, through illness both mental and physical, and our instinct in our modern society to push these things aside, internalise them, constantly distract ourselves until they have a stronghold on our life, changing the physical appearance of ones home, self and relationships. "Lyrically I think this song is the most straight forward and a good representation of the overall concept.” The striding rhythms and despondent guitars lumber with clear direction as if to invade our ongoing distraction. Though slight changes occur the pace is maintained as shifting layers and angles creating space for contemplation until like an inversion in structure of the track before hand, the song in its last moments are deconstructed and stripped back to bass and drum throbbing in unison like that of a heart beat. "Inherit" begins with an emotive respite, as shimmering guitar chords tremor in the calm. Emphasized by guitarist Troy Power's characteristic use of dry and evocative guitar tones. That have always reminded me somewhat of the approach of seminal drone/doom act, Earth.
Once again Sundr stride in a commanding manner as song breaks forth. Differing now in that musically there is a more potent sense of rage seething through the energy. Percussively driven and decisive. The chords shift expectedly towards darker emotive tones, feeling openly bitter and resentful in their intent. Droning onwards luring the physical aspects of a listener into trancelike motioning. It is the decisive use of droning that hammers the nails of the potency of "Solar Ships" poignancy.
Though present on prior releases, it is clear that there is an even more defined aspect on a motif building around whichever aspect of instrumentation that builds in creeping manners like a rising tide, shifting slightly as elements find their place of comfort. It is no criticism to state, but merely an honest observation that this kind of experience may be less suited to those who do not have an impatient disposition or not as much of an attention to detail when it comes to the consumption of art. It is very reminiscent of the way in which Belgian post-metal band Amenra induces a hypnotic and captivating emotional state. It is cinematic and visual, leaving an opportunity for the listener to create their own narrative within the experience rather than forcing an image or idea onto them. However I feel as if Sundr always have one foot firmly planted in the mire of human soils. Retaining grit and something disturbing, yet childlike within us we can all relate to. Finally with the closing title track of "Solar Ships", there is a sense of resolution in the busier pondering of guitars ushered by the sheen of a distant tambourine. Moans of crooned spoken word reminiscent to that of the folk driven songs by chaotic hardcore band Cult Leader are a much welcome addition to the range of utensils the band have at their disposal in creating intrigue and personality. It is five minutes of a sullen journey guided this masculine spectre before a sudden shift in pace and tone. A five minutes that dissipate due to the hypnotic ability to captivate a listener and dissolve the perception of time passing around them Finally nearing the last moments of the album building volume and intensity around the same motif from before.
We are given a more deliberate delivery of busier and driving drum rhythms given focus and space as glossy guitar and rumbling bass slides in the background. While I understand the desire to create space and tension, I feel as if the carefully chosen, yet very precise drumming of Dan Neumann goes highly underrated on this record often bled into the background even when busier. Perhaps this was suitably chosen to have a moment of focus on percussion before what feels like a poetically abrupt end to the record. And I must say, any end to a record that leaves a listener feeling as if they needed just that bit more of the experience is a wise and impactful choice to make with ensuring return listens even if it might be taken as cruel or unfair to those thoroughly invested. I am glad though as upon each listen I have had of this record, I have unearthed more of the buried, wavering, weaving layers and intonations within these entrancing and captivating songs. Though not the most methodically busy of records, there is a methodical and deliberate choice of restraint in motion, dynamics, timbre and rhythm made. I believe this indicates a true sense of dare I say, genius in the art when a creator has the restraint to not always use all the tools at their disposal. At times through "Solar Ships" the sense of pathos and isolation were so heavy in my minds eye I saw mental images of being flung from a boat on stormy seas and left to wrestle with the stirring, frigid waters helplessly and alone witnessing the ship drift into the foggy distance as I struggle to stay afloat and keep my head above water. There is something comforting though in being ushered through that kind of striking emotive experience, and I eagerly await the opportunity to see Sundr perform once again with their well demonstrated ability to captivate and command audiences. Once again I have decided not to give a numeric rating of a record and reduce the quality of art to an arbitrary ranking. I recommend you all buy a bottle of wine or make a hot drink and sit in the dark, ideally on a rainy day and experience this record for yourself. Solar Ships releases via CRUCIBLE, September 18th 2020.