Love In Shadow by SumacRelease date: September 21, 2018
Label: Thrill Jockey Records
SUMAC‘s reputation as tireless sonic explorers of the blasted lands beyond the metal forest is pretty well established by now. In case there was any doubt they followed their last album with an EP of amazing deconstructive remixes by techno/noise innovators like Kerridge and Kevin Drumm. Then at the beginning of this year they put out a completely improvised collaboration with Japanese free-psych-noise legend Keijo Haino – American Dollar Bill (the one with the insanely long titles). Hot on its wild stack heels Love In Shadow is the band’s third album proper and sees them leaning out further and raising the bar higher. That they’ve knocked out this enviable discography in just four short years, while all three of them play in several other bands as well, is starting making a lot of their contemporaries look like a bunch of lazy slackers to be honest, no wonder their label calls them a ‘powerhouse trio’.
‘The Task’ opens things on thunderous drums and fiercely slashing guitar before grinding down to a halt at around the seven minute mark when wandering guitar notes start to feel the way forward, it moves on through a slower, looser section and ends with Turner’s howling vocals above a mournful organ. The album runs over an hour and is made up of four long tracks. Not an unfamiliar thing in experimental/sludge metal but they’re not sinking down into those heavy riff-drone mantras that gain force through repetition, the tracks here shift nimbly between song-like, written sections and looser abstract passages. That SUMAC still get tagged as sludge metal seems woefully inadequate, there’s almost no sludge and not that much metal left in what they’re doing. Where other heavy epics smother and comfort you as they slowly unwind Love In Shadow moves at the speed of thought, you need to be on your toes. It rewards the attention too, the twists and turns feel fresh, surprising and alive. ‘Attis Blade’ is magnificent, again kicking off with clanging metallic guitar over deep growling bass, the vocals come briefly in just before it all starts to drift sideways, dissolving into a glorious frenzy of face melting noise, an electrical storm that blows a hole in the track before they start to rebuild in its image.
Final track ‘The Ecstasy Of Unbecoming’ is the loosest, most deconstructed of all, about half way in it feels as if the other two have popped out for a smoke leaving Turner absently tearing sounds from his guitar. Even here his playing is surprising and has a wonderful grating tone to it. He spots the others return, stirs up a swarm of furious hornets and they crash back into one of the more structured sections. It slows down and again comes apart before, perfectly, they all hit the finish line together. You could argue of course that it’s the same trick played over and over but it’s an effective one and damn if they don’t do it well.
The basic versions of these tracks were apparently written before the session with Haino and then recorded later by a band invigorated by the experience. Listening to it this makes total sense as they have arrived at a wonderfully effective blend of long form structures and free improvised passages. If Dollar Bill got a little too formless for you or you didn’t get along with Haino’s vocals come back and check this out because they have harnessed that spontaneity to their own road map and found their way to their best record yet. Is it still metal? Of course it is, there’s pounding drums, galloping bass, noisy guitar and indecipherable barked vocals but the rest of it? They’ve thrown all that on the fire.