Written by: AP on 09/11/2020 16:58:17

Since the turn of the millennium, black metal has steadily evolved away from the danger and controversy it became synonymous with in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and toward something more introspective and spiritual. And while many of the trve black metal bands continue to exist and release music today, the torch has long since been passed to younger and more forward thinking artists who shunned the chrome spikes, bullet belts and corpse paint worn by their predecessors, but embraced their blastbeats, tremolo riffs and shrill screams, and created the two prongs to which most new bands in the genre now seem to belong: ambient or atmospheric black metal, and post-black metal. Denmark has its fair share of these artists too, with one of the more notable purveyors being the Århusian quintet Sunken, who, like many of their brethren, find the brunt of their inspiration in the Pacific Northwest and the Cascadian black metal sound pioneered by Agalloch and Wolves in the Throne Room. Sunken wear this influence proudly on the sleeve, and as such there are few surprises awaiting the listener on their second and latest album “Livslede”. But as archetypical as the band’s sound may be, this bleak and enveloping journey into the darkest recesses of the human mind is nonetheless absolutely worth your while.

It arrived in the early autumn — perfectly timed so as to deliver a fitting soundtrack to the resurgent misery of sickness, isolation and death trouncing us in the shape of the novel coronavirus, which is poised to render the coming winter darker and drearier than ever before. “Forlist” opens the album like the calm before the storm, scattered piano keys falling like the first drops of rain onto rotting leaves as ambient sounds hum ominously in the distance. I am running through a forest ablaze with colour, yet there is something utterly depressing about the natural decay this time, an atmosphere perfectly suited to the tide of blastbeats and tremolo guitar brought by the first song proper: “Ensomhed”. The prominence of the snare drum is almost maddening, a hollow clang amidst the layers of melody spewing from Simon Skotte Krogh & Kasper Deichmann’s axes as the backdrop to vocalist Martin Skyum Thomasen’s baring his psyche, his shrieks, snarls and howls desperately reflecting on some of the worst moments of his life. But while his lyricism certainly is dispiriting, there is nonetheless a sense of catharsis pervading the song, and indeed running as a red thread through the entire album. When the music is at its most monumental, playing like a wall of sound from a full symphony orchestra, it is not pain one feels, but comfort.

Comforting is an odd adjective to use when describing a black metal album, and it goes to show how far the genre has come since its inception. But it is not for want of extremity that “Livslede” evokes that feeling. The hazy production, the often callous tone and speed of the instrumentation, as well as the outright deranged voice of Thomasen all serve to keep songs like “Foragt” anchored to the band’s Scandinavian heritage, and to overwhelm the listener with emotion, offering only deference to negative thoughts as the means to an escape. “Delirium” is thus an appropriate title for the following intermezzo-style track that transfers the listener into the imminent finale, “Dødslængsel”. It is a strangely uplifting piece of shoegaze that patiently stacks textures and timbres to build a monolith that has Mono’s signature all over it, and it sets the tone for “Dødslængsel”, which, despite its bleak title (translating to longing for death), concludes the album in a shimmering crescendo one would not be amiss to compare to Deafheaven on the iconic “Sunbather”. It delivers a stark contrast to the first half of the record, and as well as ensuring that “Livslede” turns out to be unexpectedly varied, it truly feels like a journey coming to an end, the knot at the end of the thread.

So even though “Livslede” does not break much new ground for the atmospheric black metal genre, it is hard to argue with the fact that it is a more complete album than its predecessor, 2017’s “Departure”. It feels like the introduction of three new musicians into the fold (bassist Jonas Faghtmann, drummer Jakob Ridder & rhythm guitarist Kasper Deichmann) delivered the push that was needed to realise the potential contained within that record and establish Sunken as a force to reckon with in the genre. The second half of “Livslede” also opens a new avenue for the band to explore and as such the eventual successor to it may well turn out to be the album that defines Sunken and carves out a personal niche for the Århusian outfit.


Download: Ensomhed, Foragt, Dødslængsel
For the fans of: Agalloch, Winterfylleth, Wolves in the Throne Room
Listen: Facebook

Release date 18.09.2020
Vendetta Records

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