Sunless - UrracaThey say it’s important to remain challenged, to help stave off boredom and keep the motivation and creative fires burning. Life certainly throws up plenty of challenges without invitation in our fast-paced and volatile modern world. But with music, and extreme metal, in particular, we have a unique outlet and greater control to challenge ourselves. Unfortunately, it’s easy to rest on our laurels and stay firmly entrenched in our comfort zones. While I regularly delve into brutal, progressive and technical waters and consider myself to have diverse tastes across the metal spectrum, my listening diet these days features less of the forward-thinking, avant-garde weirdness and off-kilter experimentation that I used to consume regularly. There was a time where I couldn’t get enough of the grindy, tech shit Willowtip records spewed out consistently during the early to mid-aughts. However, with upcoming releases from Pyrrhon and Dodecahedron, 2017 is shaping up as a good time to reconnect with the strange wiring and ambitious innovation that can make such music so absorbing and challenging. Enter Minneapolis newcomers Sunless, who captured my interest via their impressive two song demo last year and are now ready to launch their debut LP, Urraca.

Sunless immediately separate themselves from the typical progressive and technical death pack, boasting a sound tailor made to unsettle the brainwaves. Drawing influences from the mighty Gorguts and Ulcerate, while carving their own distinctive pathway, Sunless construct a dense, borderline chaotic and complex sound, guiding the listener on an odd aural trip filled with strange harmonies and chord progressions, crunchy discordant notes, inventive drum patterns and wildly technical musicianship, whipped into difficult to decipher, unconventional song structures. It makes for a jarring, tricky listen that showcases a band with the guts, chops and ambitious songwriting skills to pull it off in a cohesive fashion, despite the schizoid, disjointed nature of the beast.  There’s so much going on within each song, that even the shorter, more compact cuts like “Aberrant Clime” and “The Ancient Ones” are overflowing with musical ideas, knotty technicality, and unexpected twists.

Although Urraca isn’t catchy in a traditional sense, it rewards repeat listens and attention to detail, with the occasional shimmering atmospheric melody, hypnotic rhythm or mutating riff serving as suitable pay-offs for the patient listener. Drop-on-a-dime riff and tempo changes are the norm and though occasionally bordering on the impenetrable, the trio manages to keep the songs on the rails. Yet amidst the technical fireworks, jarring dissonance and off-the-wall song structures, Sunless are still a death metal band through and through, with an ample supply of beastly growls, blast beats, unsettling vibes and explosive bursts of speedy aggression and heavy riffs on offer. Urraca’s choppy nature and lack of accessibility plant the album in the niche market of experiment prog and tech death that will likely be a stumbling block for the average metalhead, but for the more adventurous listener, the album delivers. And while the 44-minute run time can lead to some listening exhaustion as your brain tries to play catch up, the payoffs are substantial and the album flows quite fluently.

Sunless 2017

Urraca is best consumed as a whole due to the abstract and unconventional style of the music, where listening to isolated tracks and picking out highlights is more difficult than your everyday metal album. That said, the mutating riffs and strange hypnotic flow of “Magpie” and the jarring, cavernous lurch of “Obsidian Wing” are a pair of knotty, oddly addictive standouts. Epic closer “Disintegration of Man” is another strong showcase of the instrumental prowess and progressively offbeat songwriting that defines Sunless’ unique brand of death metal. Despite their currently unsigned status, every part of the Sunless package smacks of professionalism. A poor production job could have easily derailed the album, so thankfully the Sunless lads tapped engineer Adam Tucker and the always excellent Colin Marston (mixing & mastering) to bring Urraca to life, and the results are excellent. The instruments are afforded plenty of breathing space and clarity within the mix, the tones are refreshingly natural sounding and punchy, while the impressive dynamics ensure ear fatigue doesn’t become a problem.

Sunless have reignited my passion for strange, experimental and abstract extreme metal with a confident and frequently engaging album. Consistently very good and occasionally great, Urraca is an accomplished debut that demands your time and attention to unlock the myriad of intricacies hidden within the jolting barrage. It’s by no means a comfortable listen, but the rewards are well worth the extra effort.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-released
Website: sunlessband.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/sunlessband
Releases Worldwide: February 24th, 2017

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  • SegaGenitals

    Great review! So many anticipated releases on 24FEB!

    • John

      Persefone, Zeal and Ardor (even though it first released last year), Sealess, Sanctuary, The Mute Gods, and Ex Deo all on the same day. Good thing I have birthday money coming in!

      March doesn’t let up either though for me. Wolfheart, Nova Collective, Vangough, Pallbearer, and Mastadon. I’m sure there will be other new bands as well that I haven’t heard of yet that I will enjoy.

      • SegaGenitals

        Was not aware of Zeal and Ardor. Good stuff.

      • I’m curious to see if the new Mastodon sets my world on fire. For me, Crack the Skye was perfection, and the two that have followed, whilst brilliant by any other standards, didn’t do much for me. (It also subsequently meant that my appreciation of Blood Mountain dropped away too…)

        The new song is promising though…

      • Oberon

        A new Pallbearer too, and I haven’t even begun to delve into Pallbearer yet

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    Been waiting for a review on this one. The guitar tone, and especially during low-fret chuggery, is so damn perfect. Agree with pretty much everything in the review. This is a ridiculously good debut, easy 4.0 for me and probably my RotM.

    • Thatguy

      Yep. Big sound. A lot happening. Great stuff.

    • Luke_22

      Yeah on the cusp of a 4.0 for sure and maybe in time I’ll regret not scoring it higher. Either way it’s a very impressive debut.

      • Oberon

        It reads like a 4.0 review, but I haven’t had a chance to check this out. You mentioned a new Dodecahedron album, can you share any more details?

        • Luke_22

          It’s due out March 17th on Season of Mist. A couple of tracks are streaming online.

        • AlphaBetaFoxface

          It is a very good album.

    • Frost15

      Do not forget about that glorious DR: 9 score, I just pre-ordered this based on the embedded track.

  • Carl Redfern

    I think this is what I need at the moment. Nice review

  • CM FTW!

    • AlphaBetaFoxface

      Alongside DR, there should be a DS, SW, or CM score that measures how good the album sounds in light of current metal production values.

      • sir_c

        i think i have missed the post on what those abbreviations mean?

        • ssorg

          DS = Dan Swano, CM = Colin Marston… not sure about SW

      • DIMENSIONAL BLEEDTHROUGH

        Maybe add a KB too for Kurt Ballou

  • Jrod1983

    Been looking forward to this, really enjoyed their demo. And the master by Marston is the icing on the cake. It’s nice when these types of bands seek to challenge you mentally with their music, and not physically with a stupidly loud production.
    I’d also recommend the Ad Nauseam album from a couple years ago for a great example of this style of metal with a fantastic production.
    Very good review.

    • I just read this review and now reading the comments and was just myself wondering…”how does this sound compared to Ad Nauseum?” That album is a complete work of art. I’m gonna check this Sunless out and form my own opinion for sure! Also dig Marston’s work as a producer a lot…still digging the Crator album that he plays on.

      • Name’s Dalton

        Creator album is superb.

        • Artander

          Absolutley agree, Crator does not get the love it deserves.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    If the music sounds like the promo picture looks, then I bet they’re quite noodly.

    • Name’s Dalton

      Think Baring Teeth meets “What Burns Never Returns”-era Don Caballero rather than overcooked noodling.

      This album exceeded my lofty expectations for this record after hearing their demo.

      • Artander

        Baring Teeth meets Don Cab, yes, exactly. Nice.

        • Name’s Dalton

          I hear dissonant notes that recall Polvo, Gapeseed, Colossamite, et al, in Sunless’ sound, but that may just be my indie task singed ears betraying their roots. Lots of metal bands (Gorguts, Pyrrhon, Krallice, etc) play in this twisted fashion, and while it would be neat for me to think it all started with the likes of early-Sonic Youth and Live Skull, it probably didn’t.

          • Artander

            Although Sonic Youth comes from a different place than Luc Lemay, both share, as you exquisitely noted, kindred creative souls…

    • Matt Vogt

      Perhaps they’ve been touched by His Noodly Appendage?

  • Diego Molero

    Wasn’t expecting to like this one since I don’t like Ulcerate (yeah, shame on me) and this weird side of death metal as a whole. But this is actually really good.

    • Westpaceagle

      You’re not alone! Ulcerate = over rated! (imho)
      This Sunless on the other hand…sounds really good so far

      • basenjibrian

        I like Ulcerate in small doses. Check out Setentia for more interesting songs while still having amazing drumming a la Ulcerate

        • Westpaceagle

          Will do! Typically I am not huge on the post/proggy/noise side of DM, but 2 recent releases that I have really struck me are Miserist (self-titled) and Karmacipher – Necroracle. The drumming Necroracle is particularly mind blowing!

        • Daniel Ritson

          Yes, yes, yes. The Setentia record is the lodestar right now.

    • Luke_22

      I have mixed feelings on Ulcerate depending on the album. This is similar more in the dense, challenging nature of the music, they very much have their own sound.

    • [not a Dr]

      Same here, although I like weird.

      • Diego Molero

        I also like weird, but not this type of weird. I’m more of a Diablo Swing Orchestra, Haken, Leprous type of weird. More on the proggy side you could say.

  • Frost15

    Gorguts worshipping is normally a good thing, and the embedded track is awesome, will check this.

  • Oscar Albretsen

    Yikes! Who set up a microphone in the garage? About the worst thing I’ve heard all year, easily.

  • El_Cuervo

    I’m fucking sold. This sounds great.

  • Name’s Dalton

    That green’s gonna look real nice as this site’s backdrop next month(ish).

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Willowtip certainly had a good run during the early to mid-aughts.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    This sounds like off-kilter Death Metal built upon a solid foundation of… Tool. Weird enough. I like it.

  • Artander

    Absolutely stunning recording by an amazing band that is expanding the sound discovered established by Gorguts & Co. Interestingly, both in terms of complexity AND of accessibility, managing excite the brain as well as the body. Avant-garde to headbang to.