Zorya – Vinyl / CD / DD
Self Released – April 11, 2016
This is the second full length from the Polish doom outfit, Sunnata. While in full disclosure, I haven’t actually heard their debut, Zorya is certainly a breath of fresh air from what I usually hear from more modern “doom.” I hear lots of bands who hear Sleep’s Dopesmoker for the first time, get really high, tune down to G flat, play really slow and think that’s the essence of “doom.” I hear other bands that take the retro route, and just try to ape the vibe of the first four Black Sabbath albums. I suppose that’s all well and good, and not particularly awful places to start off in the overall development of a band, though too often it turns into either a bit of a pitfall or a total dead end. Fortunately, Sunnata don’t fall into this trap. I personally like to hear bands that are interested in growth, development, experimentation, and bringing other influences into the fold.
This album doesn’t disappoint in any of those departments – it consistently surprised me with the various musical twists and turns, sometimes within the course of the same song, like the lengthy opener, “Beasts Of Prey.” It starts in a fashion that’s fairly typical of more contemporary doom, with a droning guitar chord and subsequent feedback, while the bass lays down a groovy, slow, slug wading through molasses intro riff. Soon enough, the guitars join in full force, building the bassline into a mighty wall of dark distortion. Twice it peaks with a more chiming, repetitive chord, before settling into a more mid-paced and punishing variation of the opening riff four minutes into the track. From there it cleans things up, with mellow, swirling psychedelic guitars and ethereal vocals delivered in the form of a mantra. Once things hit full throttle, it seems like there are two vocalists, one delivering a slightly more intense dreaminess, and the other offering a scream/throaty growl in counterpoint. It’s little juxtapositions like these that make Sunnata’s sound so effective, and it’s what makes them stand out in the crowded stoner doom crowd.
There’s a cool little guitar solo that kicks in – it sounds like slide guitar run through tons of delay, and it builds up the tension quite nicely with its mixture of melody and sheer mind searing noisiness. Nine minutes in, we see the temp once again shift into the faster “doom” realms where bands like High On Fire often find themselves. The guitars and drums blur more and more into faster, most melodic terrain, eventually taking on a slightly “blackened” timbre with the vocals and tremolo style riffs, before it suddenly peaks and ends. Wow, what an opener; it’s definitely the album’s highlight for me. The second song, “Zorya”, is no slouch by any means, though it is a little more conventional, beginning with the disembodied vocals posing the perpetual question, “Have you ever spread your wings to fly?” Only in my dreams, guys, only in my dreams. This tune is a bit more repetitive and minimalistic with the riffing, though it works, creating a trance-like backdrop for the vocals to alternate between aggression and contemplation, and there’s once again a really cool psychedelic guitar solo building into a chorus.
The third song, “Long Gone”, brings back the swirling clean tones of the first track, this time more downbeat and drawn out, which really gives them space to breath in and exhale all of their psychedelic goodness. Suddenly, things pick up into an exotic sounding motif, and we’re off to the proverbial races. Things get really intense really quickly, with the distortion kicking in along with a wah, which slowly filters the guitar’s tonality from low to high before flowing right into the verse, which follows the same motif and adds the now familiar vocals. The chorus uses some nice rhythmic and melodic variations, and there’s a section afterwards that uses some sweet syncopation as well. From their, the song repeats its clean intro, bringing in some tribal style drums a la Neurosis that leads to another distorted climax and finale. “New Horizon” starts with a fairly standard, slower doom riff, then shifts into more psychedelic territories with the guitars and vocals, which start out with an eerie chant evoking some cosmic monks on an ergotamine bender. The initial doom riff kicks back in, and the vocals pick up their typical counterpoint of styles. It’s a lot like the second song in many respects, more repetitive and trance inducing, though there’s notably a most excellent interplay between the melody of the solo section and the rhythm riff pulsing underneath it in this ascending pattern that echoes many of the themes of the album without speaking a single word.
They close with “Against And Against”, a song that’s lean and mean from the very start, starting off with a riff that’s right out of The Art Of Self Defense playbook and the album’s most aggressive vocals. I can dig it. It breaks done into some of the slowest riffs, punctuated by feedback and weird echoed bubbles of sonic depths yet to be explored. Things eventually grind to a complete halt in what could be classified as a fake ending, though this is just a tease – they’re not letting you off that easily. The riffs rehash, then slowly fade out, leaving only the barest of skeletal guitars by the end, buried in murk and reverb. Once again, this is a tease. A burst of feedback brings things right back to the forefront. Big, throbbing riffs and vocal harmonies pave the way for yet another bizarre fade-out, this one punctuated by seething white noise. It’s an interesting choice for ending an album, and quite an ambitious track.
When all is said and done, this an extremely promising album from a fairly new band. It’s not just paint by numbers doom – it showcases of a variety of influences and a spectrum of styles, all the while retaining a more modern edge. Sunnata never disappear down the retro rabbit hole, nor do they consciously ape any other band. The most apt comparison I could come up with is YOB, though even that analogy falls a little flat for me as well. It probably has more to do with YOB’s willingness to break the mold and experiment with different sounds and influences more than it has to do with actual similarities in sound. I’m definitely going to be watching this band with curiosity as they continue to grow, progress, and reach towards the upper empyrean of the doom multiverse….
Reviewed By Andy “Ding a ding dang my dang a long ling long” Beresky