Review: Sun Worship – Emanations of Desolation
Now fronted by a tombstone, apparently. Metal!
Sun Worship has great timing—the very day I wondered what they might have been up to lately was the day they released their new album. What Sun Worship also has are two pretty rad albums of long-form atmospheric black metal in the vein of Fell Voices and Ash Borer under their belt. Based on those merits, I bought this new one right away, sensing that the time may have come for them to make some changes, but confident that the changes would be good.
Indeed, changes are apparent right away. The band photo shows less people than usual, while the tracklist promises a lot more music than usual. Gone (for the most part) are the monolithic, monotone compositions that unfolded a hypnotic trance through repetition. Gone, too, is their former singer, with guitarist Lars (also of Ultha and Unru and already credited with vocals on sophomore Pale Dawn, at least on Metal Archives) taking his spot.
The immediate effect of their new style of composition is that the songs have become a lot more versatile in comparison to earlier efforts. Paired with (or perhaps spurred by) a notable improvement in musicianship, this feels like quite a leap, albeit one that doesn’t completely throw the trademark atmospheric style overboard. It’s akin to digging up a field of hard soil with a pickaxe; you still get sizeable chunks of tremolo riffs (in fact, it feels like that’s about 90% of riffs on here) accompanied by blasts, but it’s not taken to such extremes as on “The Absolute is Becoming,” for example. Songs instead consist of smaller modules that are switched out more frequently.
Regarding the change of personnel, I find the departure of former singer Felix a bit lamentable. Upon first hearing Elder Giants, his vocals were a big part of what drew me in and actually had me in awe. He sat at the back of the mix howling like a wounded animal, to the point where I wasn’t even sure if there were actual lyrics or just ululations. His pained proclamations perfectly fit the desolate music. Lars, on the other hand, delivers more of a hoarse snarl. It’s more up front and more intelligible, but, while perfectly suitable for black metal, doesn’t contribute as much to the mood. It doesn’t seem a satisfying replacement to me, but time shall tell if I can get used to him. Another less surprising change in the vocal department is the increased use of the kind of clean chanting that could already be heard on Pale Dawn‘s closing track. It sounds perfectly fine, yet I wouldn’t consider it a vital aspect.
Lastly—although it’s the first thing you hear on the album—there’s the electronic component. This, too, has received quite the makeover. The debut album’s closer as well as the one-off track “Rites of 505” presented droning, ambient, kind of trippy sounds that, while being wholly separate entities, shared the hypnotic effect of the band’s main output. I would have liked these two aspects of the band to maybe meld a bit more, but instead, the electronic component remains segregated and now consists of competently executed Dungeon Synth in the intro and the track “Pilgrimage.” I absolutely did not see that coming, but the foreboding, melodious synths and MIDI-sounding drums sound cool enough that I wouldn’t mind an EP full of this. In fact, an EP may have worked as a better vehicle to present them; as I said, these elements remain unto themselves, and I struggle to see any connection to the rest of the material in terms of mood and effect.
I feel like I still haven’t formed a final opinion on the record—due at least in part to its immense length—and would like to refrain from rating it. Or maybe I’m just chickening out because I don’t want to give them a bad rating. There may or may not be something I’m not getting; it may or may not grow on me yet. I really want to like this album as much as the previous ones, and there are several moments where I do, but with most of my favourite aspects changed or absent, I’m having a bit of a hard time here.