Review: SulacoThe Prize

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The traveling carnival is back in town for the summer, bringing with it shrill laughter and garish colors flaked with rust. Wandering past the convex mirrors of a funhouse, you see yourself made monstrous: limbs warp, the torso bloats and your lips pull back, revealing a saber-tooth grin. There’s entertainment to be found in this deformation—an escape from mundane reality, underpinned by the thrill of the grotesque. On their new album, The Prize, Sulaco channel this carnival spirit through a deathgrind lens, stretching their bodies to create music that amuses and disturbs in equal measure.

The typical growls and shrieks of extreme metal are notably absent from the album, replaced by Erik Burke’s unnerving wail. Rather than distancing himself from humanity, Burke’s vocals embrace our limits, our frailty, straining audibly with every phrase; it’s the voice of a man whose final straw was placed years ago. Just before a breakdown in the opening track, “Disguised,” the instruments drop away, leaving behind only the pitiful creaking of vocal cords. The absurdity of his exertion evokes nervous laughter, a defense against the overwhelming intensity of the music.

There are few points during The Prize‘s 26-minute runtime in which listeners are given stable ground to stand on. Burke and Brian Mason’s riffs constantly shift in style, ranging from the note slurry that introduces “The Bridge” to the spidery tech-death of “The Road.” There’s a strong The Conductor’s Departure-era Anata influence throughout, in both the guitar tone and the marriage of melody and dissonance. Mixed with grind’s emphasis on reckless speed and short, repetitive phrasing, the album is dense without sacrificing memorability.

The melodic vein running through the songs is constantly at odds with the chaotic vocals, heightening the atmosphere of unease. This creative use of melody, to disturb rather than comfort, adds texture to the album and subverts the expectations of deathgrind. Starting with a jagged, grating segment, “Chosen” quickly transitions to a tremolo riff that rivals power metal in its exuberance, managing to sound triumphant despite the clamor that surrounds it. These pockets of levity appear throughout The Prize, surfacing in the harmonized hammer-ons of “Disguised” and the stripped-down post-metal sections of “Rivers & Heart.”

Several of the tracks reach the 5-minute mark, well past the extirpation date for most of the -grind genres. Without some sort of connective tissue between the barrage of riffs, the audience will inevitably tune out, desensitized by the violence. Sulaco solve this problem with the inclusion of death metal breakdowns which, while no less violent, engage listeners on a more visceral level. The simplicity of the chugging guitars and Spoth Rasaan’s bass stabilizes the songs (however briefly), highlighting the band’s propensity for groove.

When Chris Golding’s drumming takes the lead halfway through “The Road,” the importance of the unintrusive production becomes clear; every bass kick and crack of the snare can be felt in the gut. The result is an album that captures the energy of a live performance, devoid of distractions and studio trickery.

Like the most thrilling amusement park rides, Sulaco mock the fragility of life. A perverse joy seeps from every pore of The Prize, a challenge to the body’s ever-ticking clock: how much noise can we make before all of this is over?

3.5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

The Prize is out now and available on Bandcamp.

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