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REVIEW: Sunrot – “Sunnata”

Sunrot’s Sunnata is, like a home-made Halloween costume, a combination of pedestrian elements into a work that doesn’t quite manage to disguise the quality of its parts. This is an album of atmospheric samples melded with walls of buzz-saw fuzz, an idea which shows great promise, but ultimately becomes a rigmarole to listen to in its execution. Those atmospheric samples are the novelty that will see this album gain more attention than it would otherwise be worth. From the first track, “A Void”, you will hear what sounds like heavy machinery emphasising beats and speech samples in the background of select songs.

Already, then, there’s an issue. If there is a message to the album rather than including speeches simply for the effect of including speeches, then it is lost in the background. The production of the music is very good – despite the fact that the vocalist needs some form of pop filter to make his ‘S’ sound less insidiously grating, an impairment on an otherwise first-rate vocal performance – but it sometimes (such as on, but not only, “Death’s King”) overpowers the samples, making it a struggle to understand them or their point. It’s also a pity that the non-English speeches aren’t translated somewhere elses. That’s not an issue with the record itself, but rather something that would have been a nice touch for the band to put up on their Facebook or Bandcamp page. Again, if there speeches are there for a reason and they have a message to convey, then it would help readers appreciate the album if they could actually make out and understand them.

The rest of it is a standard doom record. There are some great moments hidden in here; you’ll find some dissonant, tearing guitar work and deep bass conjuring the doom staples of sorrow and anguish. “Ossuary” in particular has an excellent intro, holding on to notes just enough to keep us suspended in tension before the fuzz box and vocals kick in, and with an excellent end that it’s difficult not to imagine there being a beat down to. “Aether” provides a high point, with a guitar doing trebley trills on an Eastern scale over the top of a wall of fuzz around the 3:50 minute mark. “Riverbed” also shows how the samples can be used to really add to the music, with the vocals intertwining around the speech – spoken word and screams panning around your headphones is a magical experience.

But, these are all moments. Even in the second half of the first full song, “Agonal State”, there is already a dangerous hint of mindless chugging on a single note. This is followed by a development into a full section of palm muted staccato chugs, before the next song, “Gormandize”, effectively does the same but with a different note.  The great moments are truly great, but there is a lot to put up with before you can get there. Frankly, some of the riffs remind me of the worst of metalcore. The album seems full of simplistic riffs that we have heard before, only this time they’re played through cranked up fuzz pedals rather than an Axe-FX.  That doesn’t make them original, or make it a notable experience to listen to them.

All of this has a knock on effect for the rest of the album: It means that the speech segments often feel out of place. The distinctively artistic flourish – the adding of which to heavy doom music is an excellent idea – sits on top of and alongside some, at times rocking and worth a listen, but at times also pedestrian, music. When they aren’t integrated (as they are on “Riverbed”), it can sometimes either feel simply out of place, or more seriously, can lead to disappointment on return to the music. An album showing signs of trying to be something it isn’t, perhaps perversely, emphasises the album’s lacks rather than its strengths. The idea behind Sunnata is excellent. Its execution is simply plagued by uninteresting riffs, and unfortunately, that one awry element is enough to mar the whole album.

 

Score: 4/10

Notable Tracks: “Riverbed”; “Ossuary”; “Aether”

FFO: Rome (the speech segments only), Bloodspot

You can find Sunnata on Bandcamp, and you can follow Sunrot on Facebook.

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