Over the course of the last year or so, there’s been a major change in my listening habits. I used to be more of a breadth type of listener, sampling as many new metal releases as possible each week regardless of genre. Thanks largely to the number of promos that show up in my inbox every week thanks to the Vault, I just don’t have the time or energy to listen like that anymore – I’m much more of a depth kind of guy now. I listen to (and end up writing about) a lot of black metal, and as a result a lot of other styles have fallen out of my listening rotation.
For example, I rarely listen to sludge anymore. I was never really the biggest fan of the genre anyway (aside from Torche, who fucking rule), but I can probably count on one hand the number of sludge records I’ve listened to all the way through this year. That’s why I’m more than a little surprised by how taken I am with the self-titled debut from Brooklyn-based trio Somnuri. Comprised of former/current members of Hull, Blackout and Family, they take a slightly more progressive approach in their songwriting while also sprinkling in liberal amounts of what sounds like a grunge influence. It’s an interesting mix overall, and makes for some very original, engaging listening.
There’s one thing I have to mention up front here, though. Vocalist Justin Sherrel’s cleans bear an uncanny resemblance to Chris Cornell’s lower register, to the point where they kind of bummed me out at first. Not to get too sidetracked here, but I was a senior in high school when grunge broke, and bands like Soundgarden were hugely important to me during that phase of my life. Badmotorfinger is one of my favorite albums from that period, and it hit me pretty hard when Cornell died earlier this year. I can listen to Somnuri now without being distracted by them, but it took several listens to get over that hump.
The fact that I kept coming back to the record in spite of it initially giving me a Cornell-related sad is really a testament to how strong the riffs are on the album. From the nimble double-time picking that kicks off album opener “Kaizen” to the heavier than an elephant’s balls final section of closer “Through the Dead,” there are approximately 1,824 killer riffs (give or take – I didn’t actually count them) packed into Somnuri’s 40-minute run time. There are so many, in fact, that trying to single out one or two as highlights is a fool’s errand. Whether you like your sludge swampy, melodic, or atmospheric, there’s at least one riff in damn near every song that will hit your sweet spot.
For me, the standout track on the album is probably “Same Skies.” There’s a definite Mastodon feel to some of the riffs, particularly in the way Sherrel incorporates full chords into some of the more rhythmically dynamic progressions. “Welcome the Stranger” has some of the grungiest riffs on the record, especially during the spacy verse sections. For sheer dynamics, check out the first minute or so of “Pulling Teeth,” which cycles through more riffs that seems possible in that short of a span while still being catchier than it probably has any right to be. Drummer Phil SanGiacomo matches Sherrel change for change throughout the record, turning in a performance that’s both remarkably fluid and incredibly powerful – he beats the shit out of his kit regardless of what time signature he’s playing in. Bassist Drew Mack provides the solid anchor the songs need as Sherrel and SanGiacomo spiral off into musical parts unknown.
In the end, I don’t necessarily know if Somnuri will inspire me to pay any closer attention to what’s going on in the world of sludge going forward, but it is the first album of it’s kind in a while—at least since The Ditch and the Delta dropped Hives in Decline back in May—that I’ve actually wanted to spin more than once. In my book, that’s a ringing endorsement.
Somnuri is now available from Magnetic Eye Records.