Review: Sunless – Urraca
Looking at some of the conversations held here in the comments and on the Facebook page, some of our community have expressed “genre fatigue” towards dissonant death metal, remarking that the market is too bloated and that bands are becoming homogenized. It’s easy to understand why; the subgenre has had significantly less time to germinate than things like thrash or black metal, and yet there’s been an explosion of such bands in the past couple years. As such, these bands have only a handful of progenitors from which to draw influence, thus leading to some similarities between them in terms of sound.
On top of that, it’s a very dense style of music, one that doesn’t generally make for easy listening. Even the other forms of extreme metal have more accessible bands: death metal has groups like Children of Bodom who are ostensibly a pop group with distorted guitars; black metal has Dissection, whose grasp of melody was enough to lure my younger self to delve further into the genre; and even sludge has early Mastodon. Dissonant death has no such easy access point, intentionally built on abstruse songwriting and convoluted structure. So what is one more of these bands? Unless you find the style palatable, why bother sifting through all of these new bands when you have the tried-and-true classics to fall back on? Why should you care about Sunless? Well, there’s a short version and a long version of the answer to that question, and you’re getting the long version first.
As I see it, the current state of the genre sees bands splitting into one of two camps: those whose primary influence is Gorguts, examining dissonance in its harshest forms, and those who follow Ulcerate, weaving uncomfortable, alien melodies into their bleak soundscapes. Sunless fall squarely in the former camp, Urraca most closely resembling Gorguts’ post-reunion output. However, being a three-piece, the band has to work that much harder for their music to take full effect. As such, the guitar lines consistently take the form of a toxic haze, the bass serving as a guide through the miasma while the vocals and drums thunder ominously from all directions. Despite the band’s stripped-down lineup, and even with minimal layering, it never sounds thin. It can be almost suffocatingly dense at times, particularly during a longer chord when the motion of the bass and drums slow or become obfuscated by the wall of noise. Riffs in the more traditional sense might occasionally show up, but they’re twisted and disappear quickly, mere shapes in the fog.
Though Sunless pull influence from Gorguts, there are some significant differences between the two. For one, Sunless’ songs are generally much shorter than Gorguts’, with only three of nine clocking in over five minutes long. The songs feel more focused and directed that way, which makes sense given the subject matter. Coloured Sands and Pleiades’ Dust were written about knowledge, making them the perfect avenue for long, ponderous songs for deep exploration. Urraca, on the other hand, is largely centered on the earth itself. These are the sounds of the violent cosmic origins of the planet and the inevitable end it will face. It’s raw and primal; to use what might be a more juvenile analogy, it could easily be set to the same images used in Fantasia at the beginning of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”
On top of that, the production has received the Midas touch of Colin Marston. It feels as though the tones were molded from the same clay as the music itself; gritty, but not too muddy. The instruments have enough space to work around each other, as is appropriate for their small roster, and everything is mixed evenly. That oftentimes means the bass is roaring at the forefront due it its more pointed nature, but that’s how it should be. The throat-rending vocals have been perfectly sculpted as well; they occupy the same mid range as the guitar, but aren’t overpowering.
Skronk/dissonant/weird/avant-garde death/whatever other inadequate label you want to apply to this music has certainly seen a boom recently, but I don’t believe it’s stagnating. Perhaps I’m biased in favor of it, but I see new ideas come with each band that emerges from the cloying black, each with their own unique take on the genre. Even among those, even as one of the newest, Sunless are one of the best bands to come into the scene, and Urraca is a monstrous debut. They feel new and fresh in spite of their obvious influences, which is more than can be said for many other bands out there.
So why should you care about Sunless? Because they fucking crush the competition.
5/5 Commodes of Creation’s Flame
Urraca is out this Friday, February 24th, and you can purchase it right here. If you can’t wait that long, you can stream it in full at Metal Injection. Friday also marks the start of their tour with Grogus; check Sunless’ Facebook for dates and let them know how deep your love for the skronk goes.