Mitochondrial Sun – Sju Pulsarer Review

It has been a scant nine months since I reviewed Mitochondrial Sun‘s debut. Under normal circumstances, I’d be wondering whether nine months is enough to generate a new album’s worth of material. However, 2020 has finally banished any remaining illusions I may have had about the linear flow of time, and calendars are now meaningless. Also, Sju Pulsarer sounds very different from its predecessor. Mitochondrial Sun was hugely varied and spanned dark electronic, ambient, and modern classical with nary a hint of metal. This was something of a surprise coming from Niklas Sundin (former guitarist of Dark Tranquillity). While still clearly an electronic music piece and still clearly a Mitochondrial Sun piece, Sju Pulsarer is a tonally and compositionally uniform black metal record. This is something of a risk given the strengths of the last.

Sju Pulsarer is comparable in construction if not instrumentation to, say, an Unreqvited album. At a concise and focused half an hour, though, it’s less prone to meandering. The title means “Seven Pulsars,” referring to the seven main tracks.1 Much like actual pulsars, they’re each very similar, differing more in the details than the composition or overall behavior. Tempos and frequencies vary between them, but each is constructed the same way: a base of synthesized blast beats and tremolo riffs, garnished largely with treble synths. On some tracks (e.g. 3, 4) the melody line is carried by the guitar riffs and the synths add counterpoints. On others (1, 5), the synths carry the primary melody instead. It’s here that Sju Pulsarer sounds most reminiscent of the last album, with the synth voices and writing adding urgency to Mitochondrial Sun‘s baseline. Furthermore, like the last album, it’s primarily instrumental. A couple of tracks (1, 5) feature something which could be a very distorted vocal howl low in the mix. “Pulsar 3” features a distorted spoken word sample, which reminds me in a slightly uncomfortable way of the Hiss babble from the game Control.

Unlike some other acts which combine electronics with black metal, there’s no sense of awkward seams or two flavors haphazardly mashed together here (see: GosT last year). There’s no attempt to do “electronic bits” and “metal bits.” It’s simply a metal record played largely on electronic instruments. This may not be to everyone’s tastes—the synthesized blast beats, in particular, have an inorganic pulsar-like uniformity and perfection2 which will annoy those who prefer their black metal more raw and underproduced. Sundin’s melodic writing is as strong as ever, and every track features at least a handful of interesting riffs and themes. It’s rarely immediately stuck-in-your-head catchy, but instead subtly worms its way in. Despite the uniformity of the construction, it never feels boring, and the short length ensures it never runs out of ideas.

All told, I just don’t like Sju Pulsarer quite as much as the last record, which was something quite special. While the instrumentation is interesting, it doesn’t fundamentally break any ground a dozen prior black metal acts haven’t. The constant, perfect blast beats grow wearying, and some of my favorite parts see them fade away for a moment. The best is the second half of “Pulsar 6,” where they provide room for more interesting, subtle drumbeats under layers of fuzz, which themselves give way to a lone piano synth. It’s not that I’d scrap the blast beats—there’s plenty of parts when they absolutely work. The album is ultimately aiming for that oppressive, hypnotic feeling. Without them, the moments of catharsis wouldn’t feel so good. I would, however, perhaps have dropped the drum down in the mix just a fraction and introduced just a touch more variety.

I’m excited about the future of Mitochondrial Sun. Bringing a bit more metal into the project is a good thing. Experimentation is a good thing. Retaining a strong sonic identity and a sense of melody while doing that experimentation is a great sign. And to be clear, I like Sju Pulsarer a lot on its own merits. I do need to be in the right mood for it, and it’s not as innovative as the last. But it’s interesting, subtly catchy, urgent and forceful. It’s a strong addition to Mitochondrial Sun‘s catalog. I hope the next record continues to take risks, I just hope it retains some more of the strengths of the first too.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Argonauta Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: November 13th, 2020

Show 2 footnotes

  1. There’s also an ambient outro, “Noll och Intet”.
  2. Look, I have an astrophysics degree and precious few opportunities to use it, I am absolutely going to run this pulsar simile into the ground.
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