Finding the right balance between atmosphere & heaviness in metal seems like an oxymoron. Most bands don’t even bother with it. You do either one or the other or you awkwardly slap melancholic synths before Earth-shattering breakdowns like Lorna Shore (I’m sorry. I like you Lorna Shore, but you need to stop doing that). But atmosphere in metal doesn’t necessarily mean synths and broken romance. It’s an idea more than a technique.
American doom metal bands have been timidly exploring these shores over the past decade, but no one has done it like New Jersey’s Sunrot on their new full length record The Unfailing Rope. This album will make you feel like moving into an abandoned building and punching the walls until the bones in your hands break into jagged little pieces and I mean this in the best possible way. This is some nasty and inspired doom metal.
A pleasant surprise if there is one, The Unfailing Rope starts with a noise instrumental! One of my shameful little secrets is that I’m a noise enthusiast. Descent begins with old school orchestral music that gets overtaken within thirty seconds by a wall of static and reverberating industrial sounds. There’s some crushing feedback as well and a sampled voice claiming: “It’s the emptiness that’s left, it is like a despair, destroying this world. Some might claim it’s too long (almost three minutes), but I think Descent is a perfect mood setter for what you’re about to hear.
Now, The Unfailing Rope transitions right into an eight an a half minutes monolith titled Trepanation and holy fuck, what a song. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard their singer Lex perform, but it’s not a voice you can’t forget easily. There’s some genuine pain in there. Structured around two samples where a doctor explains a trepanation procedure (drilling a hole inside someone’s head to relieve pressure), it is slow and heavy and scorching. I love how guitars and drums work together to heighten the pounding effect. No one is trying to flash their skill here. Sunrot is just trying to drag you into a mental hell and they very much succeed.
Gutter is another ridiculously heavy banger that starts with a hard driving riff and a blood curdling scream from Lex. It exudes such a desperate rage. It’s another song that brilliantly displays how drumming can enhance a metal song without being overly technical. It is heavily featured in the mix, sometimes even when the guitars are only droning or emitting feedback. Gutter is a mean-ass song and yet ends with haunting, clean reverberating female vocals that through the primordial sludge of Sunrot like a dead memory. It’s not corny or out of place. It feels purposeful. Once again, a skull-splitting pleasure.
I don’t quite remember The One You Feed Pt. 1 (which is on Sunrot’s first record Sunnata), but it’s hard to even consider the follow-up after two massive songs like Trepanation and Gutter. Propelled by lyrics of self-forgiveness and a serviceable doomer riff that breathes appropriately over three minutes, it feels like something that was important to the band. The One You Feed Pt. 2 probably makes a lot more sense on its own merit, but it’s just kind of there on such a sonically massive record. The Cull is another noise interlude where a sampled voice repeats : “it’s like the dead killing the dead” over and over to different pitches. I loved it. It’s very short and features elements of power electronics, which I think is quite suitable to Sunrot’s aesthetic.
Patricide is the most experimental song on the record. Once again establishing parallels between medical problems and emotional distress, it is powered by murky, meandering riffs that create a filthy texture for Lex to express what seems like scalding anger towards their father. “I’ll kill you and your voice inside my head” is such a powerful, haunting line. It could’ve been hurled over a polka instrumental that it would’ve been just as powerful.
Now, Tower of Silence is an interesting case. By far the longest song on The Unfailing Rope, I understand it was supposed to be one of its crown jewels, but I thought it lacked the dynamism and the muscle of songs like Trepanation and Gutter. I mean, it’s a fine doom metal song, but it feels a little out of place on this record? Even the lyrics are less in-your-face and more allegoric than any other song on The Unfailing Rope. Still, I loved its drone intro and slow build-up. Also great use of the bass to enhance the atmosphere in transitions. It’s loud and grungy in the mix. I just don’t know how to feel about its elegiac qualities after getting so violently rattled prior to that.
The closer Love is another noise track,which Sunrot is really great at. It’s never too chaotic and prioritizes sampling and atmosphere over the intuitive approach noise musicians usually have. You could almost call it dark ambient. Once again great use of power electronics elements to enhance the feeling of inner turmoil.
I understood from the promotional material that The Unfailing Rope was a very difficult record to make, but it is by any stretch of the imagination a bone-rattling punch in the face. Feelings of desolateness, isolation and consuming rage swirl around this bad boy like sharks in blood-infested water. The Unfailing Rope is a cathartic record that will exorcize your self-loathing like a metal priest. Not an everyday listen, but definitely an essential to get you through difficult times.
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