One of the many things that makes metal so great is that it practically is a living, breathing organism. It has developed over time, starting as something that grew out of the blues into a beast that is altogether its own thing. It didn’t get there overnight, and it took bands that took chances to keep pushing the boundaries.
You really can’t just say “heavy metal” anymore, as it has so many offshoots that the term only applies in the loosest sense. That’s a positive thing, as it has made for the inclusion or artists and sounds that perhaps would not have been embraced a decade or two ago and made it part of its DNA. If this was 2000 or 1990, chances are that England’s Sunwølf would not be a part of the conversation on a site like this and might even struggle to find where they belong. But the genre has changed, and we have progressed as listeners, so a band like this totally has a place somewhere up on that massive, heavily branched family tree. Yes, they have their heavy, doggedly punishing moments that might remind some of bands such as Neurosis or Cult of Luna, but they also have calmer, more picturesque sections to their music that could help them find favor among a great deal of hard rock or indie rock fans.
The band has returned with their incredible, compelling new double album “Beholden to Nothing and No One,” and this sprawling gem is one that’ll captivate you from the first moments and take you on a 14-track journey that’ll go by in a flash. There are elements of doom, death, and sludge, but there also are huge post-rock sections, folk tendencies, and atmospheric wonders that blend beautifully. The band has toured with artists that speak to their musical diversity, including Jesu, Chelsea Wolfe, and Forest Swords, and their sound also would sound perfect preceding bands such as Boris or Deafheaven. Not that they sound like those groups. They just have enough in common that they’d make great bedfellows. The duo of Matt Carrington and Dominic Deane is joined by some special guests along the way and put together their most expansive document yet, and each side of this mammoth differ from each other greatly. That’s just another element that makes this record so powerful.
The first half of the record is 50 minutes, and it’s the heavier, gnarlier of the two. “In the Darkened River I Found the Silence Loom” opens the album with a wave of ambiance and drone, with guitars eventually trickling in. Tiffany Ström of Myyths provides vocals, with her lovely voice adding a dream-state element to the song–she reminds me a lot of the aforementioned Wolfe–and the 7:13-long opener eventually fades into the night and paves the way for “The Widow’s Oil.” That cut has clean, cold guitar work that drizzles and causes shivers, leading into “Vultures Crown,” the heaviest cut on the record and one that’ll take off your head. The vocals are gritty and howled, there is a hulking dose of metallic violence, and the song is heavy as hell. “The Wake of the Leviathan” also is devastating and menacing, with chugging riffs, noise that pierces your eardrums, and wild howls including, “We drown at their feet!” “Thrown Into a Nameless Time” is buzzing and hypnotic for its first minutes, and then it begins clubbing you hard, with throaty growls, droning clean singing, and mucky sounds that hang in the air. “Totem” is a smothering instrumental caked with mud, and it’s followed by the title cut, that takes its time to start burning, and once it does, Peter Finch’s speech from “Network” sweeps in and adds a dramatic, forceful blast. “Heathen’s Rest” caps off the first half, as the 10:14-long burner meanders purposely and has a burnt Western feel to it. This song has amazing body and emotion, complete with vocals that’ll arrest your soul, and it’s an ideal segue into the second half of the record.
Part two of “Beholden to Nothing and No One” runs 35 minutes, and it’s pulled back, more atmospheric, and more reflective. The 7:15 “Twelve Sunne” begins with pulsating sounds and cosmic noises that reverberate in your mind. There is a clip from a Noam Chomsky speech woven into the song, giving it a sobering dose of reality, and that track bleeds into “Come O Spirit, Dwell Among Us” that sizzles from the very start. There is an ambient haze, but noise beneath it begins to bubble and swell, threatening any sense of calm you may have achieved. Guitars moan and whine, sounding equally in pain and ecstasy, and all of the sounds combine to cry a river all the way to the song’s conclusion. “Ithaca” is a shorter track, with a field of horns adding humidity, and dusty guitars injecting psychedelic power into the scene. “Symptoms of Dearth” has a slow, sprawling personality, and it reminds a bit of Earth’s later-era work. The melodies set in over time and get into your bloodstream, and horns rear their heads again and provide a brassy finish. “Lotus Island” is the darkest cut on the second half of the album, as chant-like vocals spread out, with electric stabs lacing the area with bruises. Doomy waters begin to flow heavily, with a sense of danger rising up, and the final moments eventually release their grip and permit air back into your lungs. Closer “Of Darknesse” is the perfect way to let you off gently, with piano notes dripping, somber and dreary melodies unfurling, a female voice calling out, and the record folding itself up and fading much in the same way it introduced itself. It’s quite a journey you’ll take with this record, and don’t be surprised if you go back again and again. I know I have.
Sunwølf is another band pushing the limits of heavy metal and infusing new ideas and sounds into the genre and their own work. This third album “Beholden to Nothing and No One” is a fantastic record that gives you heaviness and inventiveness, and every moment of this thing is worth fully absorbing. This is a band that hasn’t met its full potential yet on a recognition standpoint, but this record very well could get them there. They already have the artistic chops. The only way you can be disappointed by this music and this band is if you have no heart or soul.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Sunwølf uk
To buy the album, go here: http://Sunwølf .bigcartel.com/