Back in February, the Angry Lord himself graced the website with what is objectively the best article of advice to unsigned bands ever written. While that piece is special enough just by existing, what makes it even better is that, occasionally, bands even claim to have read it. When that happens, and if we don’t miss the magical moment entirely, I am always more than willing to give the band their dues and take a gander at their material, for better or worse. Such would have been the case here if it weren’t for one fact: Drift into Black is not a band, but a guy by the name of Craig Rossi. After his departure from the keyboard position of melodeath band Grey Skies Fallen, Rossi wanted to flex his multi-instrumentalism, performing keys as well as vocals and guitars on his solo debut, the unwieldily-titled Dead Suns Under the Forever Moon.
I was unexpectedly reminded of Ghost after the intro ended. Partially because post-intro opener “Sifting Through the Dead” kicks off with a plucked melody highly reminiscent of “Cirice,” but mostly because Rossi’s vocals have the drawling style and sardonic timbre that Tobias Forge in his guise as Papa is known for. Musically, however, Dead Suns falls squarely within the confines of doom metal. The keys add a sheen of gothic grandeur, but thankfully in stark contrast to most one-man bands, Rossi knows how to rein himself in. The compositions avoid the pitfalls of endless meandering, resisting the lure of senseless progression with more straightforward structures. There are few instrumental or vocal excesses, with a focus on solid hooks and riffs, as well as Rossi’s ominous vocals.
It all reads like Rossi testing the waters of his solo project. The lack of moon-shooting makes Dead Suns feel almost tentative, like he wanted to do things his way but wasn’t entirely sure what that meant. A tad more exuberance would not have been unwelcome, as the more subdued passages feel almost stoic. The vocals are technically sound enough, and their timbre has the personality to pull through. Yet when all stops need to be pulled, they lack power and don’t lean into their evocative factor enough to truly stand apart. The production doesn’t help the record either, with a loud master and somewhat flat sound that detracts from the extra layer the keyboards provide.
This subdued approach doesn’t work against the record entirely though. Many albums crash and burn because their execution can’t live up to their ambitions, and self-produced solo artists are the worst in this regard. The collected demeanor of Dead Suns ensures the record is never less than solid. The riffs are enjoyable and hook into your brain easily enough, and they pair well with Rossi’s shamanic vocals for ominous effect, a sense of foreboding permeating the album. Its limited scope prevents boredom, as flourishes such as the ballad “Gone But Not Forgotten” (with guest musicians Melissa Hancock and Elizabeth Weaver on backing vocals and cello respectively, to good effect) and the odd melancholy passages on “Hollow” providing plenty of variety.
Dead Suns is not a remarkable record by any means. Although the hooks are solid and the performances from both Rossi and his guest musicians are on point, the album is dragged down by its flat production and unambitious songwriting. Yet as a starting point, this debut feels more promising than your average one-man act. This is a project that doesn’t barge heedlessly through conventions only to crash and burn; this is a man finding his feet, exploring a sound to see what works, looking before he leaps at each step. If he uses a little more polish, dares to leap a little further next time, and improves on the production, the next Drift into Black album could be a real winner. Dead Suns stops short at being the outline of one.