CROSSING OVER: White Suns bring agitated, nerve-fraying chaos with noise-drenched ‘Totem’

White Suns
Are you willing to be prodded, agitated, and even irritated by music if, at the end of the experience, you have realize you’ve encountered something unique that likely won’t be found in any other new records you hear in a calendar year? If so, and your skin is thick, you’ll want to pay close attention today.

Each month, we do this Crossing Over section where we visit music that doesn’t really fit into the realm of heavy metal, but White Suns probably will come as close as any to finding true crossover appeal of those who have more daring ears and interests. They are not an easy band to get to know, and there’s a good chance a lot of people who take on their new record “Totem,” that is out on San Francisco-based dark music label The Flenser, won’t find comfort. Actually, if you’re a fan of The Flenser’s offerings, which started metal-centric but have gone beyond those boundaries (I offer up Have a Nice Life, Wreck & Reference, and Planning for Burial as evidence), you’re likely to be more instantly welcoming of this band and this record than a newcomer.  Or someone who needs pure metal all the time.

White Suns coverAs noted, White Suns could find favor among some metal pockets, particularly among those bands who also serve to grate and test one’s patience, such as Khanate, Gnaw, or Gnaw Their Tongues. The group is based more in free-form punk and noise than anything else. In fact, through much of “Totem,” the band’s third full-length effort, it sounds like this band plugged one chord into the wall, the other into their veins and let whatever hell and fury inside them loose. It’s unhinged and unsettling for much of its running time, and it feels so ridiculously and violently off the cuff, that I can only imagine what their volatile live performances must be like. So “Totem” really is not a heavy metal record at all, but you’ll certainly be able to relate to their passion, their panic, and the devastation they create.

White Suns formed in 2006, and they consist of Kevin Barry, Dana Matthiessen, and Rick Visser. Their primary weapons are sickeningly down-tuned guitars, amplified drums, and electronics that sound warped and expertly thrown together, and they’ve offered up two other records (2011’s “Waking in the Reservoir” and 2012’s “Sinew”) and a number of smaller releases before putting together their terrifying new record. They’ve really hit on a firestorm on “Totem,” and while it might crawl under the skin of listeners who don’t have a lot of patience for this level of agitation, it should hit home—maybe a little too hard—for those can identify with what’s going on here.

You don’t have to wait long to find out what’s in store for you on “Totem,” as “Priest in the Laboratory” treats you to abrasive madness, talk-yowled vocals, and weird melodies that rise up among the formlessness. The song churns and drills, continuing to increase the pressure you’re experiencing, with the track finally drowning out in a vibrating hum. “Prostrate” is pure noise, with agitated guitars struck violently and the words recited like poetry being spat in the floor. “Disjecta Membra” is a boiling cauldron of panic, with chaos piling up on top of chaos, and the band setting the whole thing on fire to burn freely and, if they had their say, forever. “Cathexis” is maddeningly confrontational, with the shouting feeling like it’s directed at you, and the bulk of the track is marred in mental breakdown that spills into the crushing ending. “Fossil Record” has swirling chaos that crawls slowly, as if injured, and the instrumental, alien weirdness brings a dizzying finish to the first half.

The second side kicks off with “Clairvoyant” that begins with pure rage and fire, and it is the fiercest, heaviest track on the record. The song is fast and corrosive, the vocals are completely unhinged, as if the words of a madman separated from his medicine, and the final crazed shouts of “bleeding out!” repeat over and over as the tide of blood rises and eventually spills over. “World-Lock” actually has some calmer moments, though they are fleeting as the guitars eventually charge up and grow fiery, with the vocals pelting at you like freezing rain. The final moments of the song, with its penetrating programming, could leave you feeling in a trance. “Line of Smoke” comes off like the band felt their way through this one and didn’t have a real plan, though it works pretty well with its hand drumming and attacking guitars, turning into something cosmic and oddly magical. Closer “Carrion” is the longest cut of the collection at 7:08, beginning with feedback-smeared guitars and a stabbing, furious focus. Cries of, “The scavengers are circling!” and, “Soon I will drift away as well,” help you put together the mental picture of what’s going on, and the band pounds away and prods behind him, building a huge wall of sound that dissipates into winds that sting your eardrums and footsteps crunching what sound like 10,000 dead leaves.

White Suns won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, that’s for certain, and they’re sure to piss off as many listeners as they please. But I’ pretty sure going into this record that the band knew this and didn’t care at all who they offended with their style, and you can hear that in the gusto and power in which this music is delivered. “Totem” is as furious and defacing as any metal album that’s been released so far this year, and when it comes time to turn the calendar again, we may find all bands were hard pressed to prove they’re as sick as these three.

For more on the band, go here:

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