Somehow, the sobriquets “post-rock” and “post metal” came to mean “very atmospheric sludge metal played by hardcore musicians.” Sundr is one such four-piece band from Melbourne, Australia. The Canvas Sea is their first full-length album and it has more sludge than Donald Trump’s pants at the slightest mention of the word “Russia.”
Not to say, of course, that Sundr play anything… err… that needs to be flushed. Quite the contrary, The Canvas Sea is quality stuff. It shows the incredible diversity in Australia’s heavy music scene in that they sound absolutely nothing like any of Melbourne’s more famous bands (e.g. Vanishing Point and King Parrot). Sundr revel in the sub-60 BPM range, and they deserve kudos for creating an album of such warmth and atmosphere without resorting to very much in the way of studio manipulation. Their write-ups for The Canvas Sea on Facebook claim the album was recorded live in studio as a jam rather than meticulously tracked, and it sure sounds that way, with the guitars lacking the intense “fizz” that sometimes accompanies massive overdubs.
The Canvas Sea kicks off with (no, we need a better cliché than that) slowly shambles into the room with (yeah, that works!) “A Carrion Vulture.” It has a basic sludge metal groove, but the riff has hardcore qualities. Alas, this does not last long, as the distortion drops out to make way for minimalism in the form of a lengthy, bare passage. How bare? Drummer Dan Neumann plays this part without any cymbals (no hi-hat, no ride, no cymbals at all) and hardly any fills. This speaks wonders for Sundr’s tightness as a band and portents very highly of what they must sound like live. The distortion crashes in for dramatic effect about two-thirds of the way into the song for maximum dramatic effect; a familiar ploy, and always a welcome one when executed well.
Sundr stay within this idiom for the full length of The Canvas Sea, seeming comfortable with gloomy sludge. The second song, “Guilty Gods,” is not much different from the opener except for the addition of melody close to the end of its 8m19s run-time. “I Still See Plagues” would be the song that Sundr decided have as The Canvas Sea’s exemplar, as it is the only one they made a video for as of this time of writing. It has one of the more rarefied buildups in the annals of sludge. Vocalist Scott Curtis (who, for the record, is a medium-high pitched screamer) is preceded on this track by guest singer Imogen Neumann, whose mezzo-soprano sirentry sets him up rather nicely. “I Still See Plagues” makes an abrupt change to a much faster tempo close the song’s equally abrupt ending.
Of course The Canvas Sea has a title track; At 11m55s, it’s also the album’s longest song (For the record, it has seven songs at 55 minutes — those metrics alone indicate how this album sounds). The track has some very clean parts in the middle with minimalistic drumming much like the opening track (q.v. “A Carrion Vulture”). The guitar work of Troy Power (and if anyone was born with a rock star name, it’s this guy) weaves an overbearing sense of solid doom, particularly near the end when he goes full sludge.
Sundr is an Old Norse word meaning “apart,” “isolated,” or “alone” depending on the context. That fits the sound of The Canvas Sea for sure, in that it is not for everybody. People who like atmospheric sludge will go for all out for this album. It will leave others flat. The Canvas Sea earns our recommendation as a worthy addition to the pantheon of sludge, and as stated before, we are very curious to see what Sundr sound like live.
Notable Tracks: “I Still See Plagues”; “Guilty Gods”; “Corinthians”
FFO: Neurosis, Amenra