Nothing indicates the relevance of a music genre as clearly as the emergence of new bands. In the department of Danish black metal, several new acts worthy of attention have released their debut records in 2016 and this year. So far, the debuts which continue on making my rainy autumn days even more pleasantly depressing include Forfald (2016) by the ‘aarhusians’ Gespenst, VI by Morild, self-titled demo from Blot & Bod, Metamorphosis by Råttkung and Moseofring by Lindorm (all of the latter came out this year). However, looking at the current situation of black metal scene in Denmark, one can form a rather polarized opinion.
There are acts that have been playing for a bunch years and still sound like the stuff from 20 years ago. That is not necessarily a bad thing in itself though: who doesn’t love a good old vintage suicidal vibe once in a while, right? On the other end of the spectrum, we have groups that are more eclectic and fuse black metal with post-hardcore, heavy metal, shoegaze, and whatnot. But then they are no longer black metal outfits in a strict sense. Without going forward, any genre is doomed to dissolve either to its post phase or risks getting stuck at the same constrains, which evolve into clichés over the years. Both of the ways lead black metal as we know it to its early grave. So where should we look for recognizable, yet demandingly present black metal which is neither post nor passé? One of the plausible options could be giving a shot to Departure, a debut full-length by Sunken which came out in spring 2017. As you can judge from the release date, my opinions on the album had quite some time to sink in.
Imagine now for a moment, you’re walking on a seaside. It’s getting dark, it’s way past dinner time, the sea is getting stormy and uneasy. You know it’s only a solemn initiation into something’s bad that’s about to happen. For a mere second, there is only your accelerating heartbeat that occupies your all senses, merging with the rhythm of crashing waves. The singing of seabirds is getting more and more distant, like memories of you once being a happy little fellow. All of a sudden, you find yourself being poured by a cold wave which like a huge hand of inevitability grabs your weak body and mercilessly drags it into the void. With the sand gritting between your clenched teeth and the mouth full of salty water, you start to struggle. Hating your life, hating the birds, hating yourself and every single particle in the Universe. But then, what is the point of fighting anyway? The cold embrace of waves calms your nerves for a while. At last, everything is going to be fine. Are you sunken yet? You find your mind doing a sweet departure from all the torture, looking down on your flesh and bones sinking into the depths of the sea, while the rays of the setting sun are playing upon the surface. Then you start struggling again, being dragged right back into the void. That, ladies and gentleman, how Sunken’s Departure first triggered my poor imagination.
Sunken is an emerging black metal outfit from Aarhus who recently released their debut album, which appears to be stemming from the grounds of depressive black metal tradition of the 2000’s with fresh energy and a bit less of the lo-fi vibe. Departure consists of five compositions which, with the exception of the intro, vary roughly from 9 to 15 minutes in length (which might look rather ambitious, yet is not uncommon to the genre). None of the tracks, nonetheless, do not feel lengthy either when taken one by one or in random selection. The album could also be listened as a single nearly one-hour long composition, due to its dynamic, yet sufficiently organic fragments, which never fully let go of intensity, even when temporarily decreased in tempo.
Departure opens up with an atmospheric intro that gently melts into building tension and gets destroyed by distorted guitars, supported by some serious blast beats. Beautiful low-key melodies, surrounded by rushing, slightly distorted rhythmic guitar and heavy baseline might feel overwhelmingly tangled at first, but only for a moment – the moment your mind adapts to this earth-quaky feeling of instability, harmony and order shine through.
The sound of Departure is gritty and multi-layered, however, all the layers even at most chaotic momentums are relatively prominent and can be appreciated separately. The sorrowful screams, which are mastered nicely and not too overwhelmingly into the dynamics of high-powered, yet gloomy guitars, the fierce drums, and, of course, the creative bass line, which, aside of being a very supporting force in the atmosphere, sometimes could be compared to a fish, gracefully manoeuvring under water. Skip, for example, to the dialogue between the bass and the guitar melody at the beginning of the title track. See what I’m talking about?
The production of Departure is overall nice, especially if you don’t mind some noisy reverb residue and don’t wish every sound to be razor sharp and extremely polished. Don’t take me wrong, it’s not the sound of the basement kind of lo-fi; yet not overly produced and clean either. The only minor detail that bugs me in terms of mixing is the change in resolution and volume between the intro and the second track. If the intro would have more sand to it, perhaps it would glue better with the rest of the album.
In general, I see Departure as a well-made existential statement coming from young minds in form of atmospheric black metal. Take the lyrics, for example, which, although told from the first-person point of view, are rather universal in terms of human emotion. The wording itself, however, could be tweaked here, simply to avoid formulas already a bit tired and overused to describe inner torture. Not that they are bad now: people scream all sorts of stuff in loud genres where no one understands a word and rarely bothers to actually read the lyrics. It just feels that they could be more thought out as it comes to language.
The picture of the band inside of the booklet also caught my eye with the same metaphor, as if saying that the four human figures could be anyone. Have you ever felt something like And now I am void/Darkness incarnate/An empty shell of failures/Finite through span/Devoid of brilliance/Frail sense of/accomplishment or ability? Yes? Then it’s an album for you. No? Then look at the cover art. Still no? Well, you are either one lucky fellow or deeply suppressing some serious stuff. In that case, this album is even more for you.
Now let us all tune in the final track, arguably the most atmospheric in the whole record. For the ones familiar with a neighboring band møl with whom Sunken share two members, Frederik and Ken, it might hit home for its turbulence and at times nearly ecstatic character. However, the conflict in the storyline in Departure does not resolve in a positive manner. Martin screams out: All is forgiven/As we sink toward the bottom/In the depths below the world/In the cold embrace of waves, the lights go out one by one, leaving you alone to drift in the same old waters.
Label: Nordavind Records
Released: 26 May 2017
Mixed & Mastered: Johan Jørgensen
Illustrations, design, and layout: Emil Underbjerg
Band: Ken Klejs (Drums); Frederik Lippert (Guitar); Simon Skotte Krogh (Guitar & Bass); Martin Skyum Thomasen (Vocals)
Although the lyrics and certain nuances in mastering could use some brushing up, 'Departure' is an overall strong debut record, which deserves great appreciation. In spite of the album title, I really hope Sunken are here to stay. (5/6)