Friday, 11 September 2009

Sun of the Blind - Skullreader. 84/100.

I’ve said before that ambient black metal is perhaps one of the least perfected sub-genres. Though the depressive side takes the brunt of the barrage of abuse, this side is whitewashed over because it isn’t in the foreground of the mind of your average black metal listener. Ambient is a little more obscure and hidden from the eye of the public. Those who attempt this fragile style attempt it with their own fate in their hands. It is easy to succumb to the pressure of such a sub-genre and crumble in the limelight for everyone to see because of the intricate passages that are the make-up of this star gazing, astral loving, cosmic style. In order to be a success, one has to innovatively manoeuvre between the light of ambient and the dark of black metal with a balance in mind. Too much of one thing is not a characteristic that will generate positive reviews. Take fellow Swiss band Totgeburt, for example. T relies too heavily on a dull ambient sound to prove his worth within the scene and in doing so, the black metal elements are sacrificed like a lamb to the slaughter. Given T’s relative inexperience within the music industry, perhaps he can be forgiven for producing a substandard piece of music that touched upon too many mediocre soundscapes, rather than just plain bad. His musical vision was too raw, whilst being well produced, to survive these early stages of his career. There is room for improvement but, hopefully, he can live up to the initial high expectations and deliver.

Sun of the Blind, seemingly a side-project, first and foremost, of Darkspace guitarist and vocalist Zhaaral, should be no stranger to high expectations. Considering the open appreciation of Darkspace, I’m sure most people expect the musicians’ side-projects to turn to gold, no matter what genre, or sub-genre they turn their hands at. Paysage D’Hiver is a good example of this. Being recognised as one of the most pivotal ambient black metal bands around at the moment, Zhaaral has a huge job on his hands filling the minds of the listeners with cosmic tales of beauty through anguish given the enormous and inadvertent pressure mounted on his shoulders by the presence of Paysage D’Hiver alongside his own project. The two project too very different sounds. The reader should not approach this record expecting to hear something in the vein of Paysage D’Hiver. However, to expect something a little closer to Darkspace would not be entirely unthinkable. Having said that, Zhaaral definitely has set up stall within the cleaner variation of the sound. The production job on ‘Skullreader’ is fantastic. For me, it harbours a perfectly balanced sound between airy and light - dark and heavy. The base of the work is very much inspired by acts like a doomier Katatonia, particularly during their first two records.

The heavier sound seems to take a small dose of Darkspace inspired guitars and mesmerising ambiance and mesh the two together in a watered down style that isn’t as potentially headache inducing. The Darkspace style requires a certain frame of mind for me to be able to enjoy it. I need to have a clear mind, be free from pain and in the mood to allow the almost inaccessible melodies drive through the heavy snow and wind depicted in the stormy production that powers on by through distortion. Sun of the Blind immediately establish the entrancing sound as more accessible than Darkspace. For me, these two bands are the epitome of the positive sound this sub-genre can produce. However, they’re on different sides of the ambient spectrum. Darkspace, as stated, relies more on hypnotic dirges through distortion and powerfully intermingled melodies that seep gradually through the cracks in the dissonant soundscapes over a prolonged period of time - hence why the songs are as lengthy as they are. Sun of the Blind, on the other hand, are cleaner, whilst maintaining that powerful hypnotic sound that pulls the soul from the body and drags it across the galaxy in search of cosmic adventures.

Though the methods of both bands might be similar - intertwining guitars and keyboards - the resulting sounds are as contrasting as they could be with Sun of the Blind, supposedly, leaning towards a gothic/rock sound. The latter band also includes a touch of variation, whilst Darkspace maintains a similar façade throughout the proceedings, as songs like ‘Ornaments’ indicates with its sombre keyboard passages at a much slower tempo than Darkspace ever dare to venture into. Whilst one relies of fury to inspire the astral images, the other relies on a decadent walking pace to gradually build the story like some long winded fantasy novel based in the vast realms of space with the odd meteor shower of black metal crossed with the familiar post-rock/shoegazing fuzz in between. Zhaaral is a talented musician, controlling most of the multi-faceted portrayal. He has a visionary mind and, hopefully, will continue to contribute to the ambient scene with this band as they are one of the few contenders to the throne in a sea of pretenders.

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