As regular readers of my monthly column The Listening Chaos likely already know, I am a huge fan of dissonance in technical death metal. One of my all-time favorite records is Gorguts’s Obscura, and as a result I’m immediately drawn to any band that plays in that style: Baring Teeth, Geryon, Pyrrhon, Chthe’ilist, Withered, Plebian Grandstand, Ulcerate, the last couple of Krallice records, etc.
Add to that list Minneapolis-based trio Sunless and their debut full-length Urraca, which checks off all the requisite boxes for me to be into it. Dense? Check. Angular-sounding? Yep. Strange, shifting time signatures? Absolutely. And it doesn’t hurt that the album was mixed and mastered by Colin Marston (Krallice, Gorguts, Withered, Dysrhythmia, Behold the Arctopus), who knows a thing or two about dissonant death metal.
But that’s not to say that the band’s music is somehow derivative, or is all style without any real substance. Sunless has a directness to what they do that is uncommon among bands of this style. Consider a band like Pyrrhon, where the dissonance comes as a result of their chaotic arrangements, or the wonky time signatures and inhuman-sounding drum patterns of someone like Ulcerate. Sunless sound deceptively straightforward in comparison. There’s not a lot of contrapuntal push-and-pull between the guitar and bass, resulting in riffs that are almost catchy by tech-death standards, particularly the deep groove they lock into during “Gathering at the Skull’s Eye” and the last few minutes of closing track “Disintegration of Man.” And while drummer Ben Iburg’s playing evinces a ton of technical ability and near-inhuman stamina—especially on “Born of Clay,” with its dizzying number of time and tempo shifts—it isn’t the focal point of any of the songs – it doesn’t call attention to itself the way that Jamie Saint Merat of Ulcerate’s playing does. As a result, these songs are tight and eminently listenable while still being technically and rhythmically complex.
All told, Urraca is one hell of a debut record from a band that I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more about once word starts getting around. I’ll be stunned if a label doesn’t pick Sunless up and give this a wider release. In the meantime, I hope they find their way to Indy for a gig – I’ll bet they’re just devastating live.
Urraca will be available on February 24 both digitally and on physical formats (CD/tape) via the Sunless Bandcamp page.
Clayton T. Michaels (Senior Editor) is a mild-mannered college English teacher by day, and a craft beer drinking, black metal and grindcore loving misanthrope by night. He’s also an award-winning poet and rabid Red Sox fan. Send him your promos at [email protected] You can also find him posting pictures of black metal cassettes and beer can labels on Instagram as @ironhops.