I’m gonna get right to the point here: where the fuck has Second to Sun been my whole life? And I don’t mean one of my favorite Atheist tracks either. Second to Sun hails from St. Petersburg, Russia and plays slick atmospheric black/death with a touch of thrash tickling the edges. But, before that, they played djent… Though you aren’t allowed to talk about that because the band doesn’t acknowledge Based on a True Story (or their “debut” record, Gal agnostiske drømmer) as being a part of the band’s official discography1. Instead, it all began with 2015’s The First Chapter. And though a transition from djent to wicked, unsettlingly melodic black metal (with clear headbangable moments) is odd, the strangest part about The Final Chapter is that it’s an instrumental album… I know what you’re thinking: shit’s getting weird.
But Second to Sun is no “ordinary” instrumental band—at least not in the same way as old Gus G. or Jeff Loomis. Shortly after its initial release, The First Chapter was re-released with guest vocals from Gleb Sysoev. And so began the new era of StS. Next came 2016’s instrumental record Blackbound and then the reconfigured and expanded vocal version, The Black. Again with Sysoev on the vocals, this album takes The First Chapter one step further by reimagining songs and structures so that it exists as its own album. Six months later,2 in true The Ocean form, The Walk arrives with both the vocal and instrumental version.3 And, unlike Blackbound and The Black, The Walk doesn’t need a reconfiguration to make it a new, unique listen—either instrumental or not. Both versions are captivating.
But there’s no calm, growing, introduction to opener “We Are Not Alone.” Instead, it bangs away on your temples nonstop from the first strike of the first chord. The bass guitar, in particular, striking the hardest as the building meloblack atmospheres threaten to suffocate the listener. It grows and grows with each layer getting thicker and thicker. Then it goes quiet. A second later, it explodes once more—the power and emotion even grander than before. And when it finally ends, I can’t help but want more. “Home” quenches some of that thirst but it’s “The Owls” that completely satisfies my craving. Like “We Are Not Alone,” “The Owls” builds from beginning to end. And its heartbreaking emotion, clean backing vox, key and effects-driven atmospheres take it further than any song on the album. The Wintersun-like keys, the occasional thrash licks, and the scream Sysoev unleashes in the middle is the kind that only Peter Tägtgren (Hypocrisy) is capable of achieving.
“To Live” also uses Wintersun-inspired keys loaded with a dark emotion that fights to get free. It rises and falls but even its calm interludes are ready to explode. And they do. Combining melody and heaviness into a massive conclusion. But the heaviest (and thrashiest) song of them all is “New World Order.” Its slow, unsettling riffs explode into the second-wave violence of Gorgoroth, smashing bass heads and snapping strings on its journey to hell. Then it freezes, transitioning into a weird Monty Python-like interlude that only Sigh would dare do—finally concluding with deathy intensity.
The perfect example of an StS song that can take on two different interpretations—depending on if you’re listening to the instrumental version or not—is “Black Lines.” Instrumentally, its grooving chorus does just that: grooves. Vocally, its odd arrangements sound like a Hypocrisy and Cradle of Filth hybrid. No matter the version you listen to, you’ll find the calming “From Outer Space” and sinister “We Are Alone” to be the mid-album and closing instrumentals of the record, respectively. Then there’s “The Train 1702.” A piercing and unnerving nightmare that squeals and shrieks like a locomotive from the depths of hell. Nothing about it is groovy or headbangable. It’s just uncomfortable.
With two releases in one year, Second to Sun have outdone themselves. The Black is a fantastic reconstruction of its instrumental counterpart and The Walk (both the vocal and instrumental versions) is an original creation that surpasses every one of its predecessors. Although the two versions of The Walk have identical songwriting, they both give you a unique experience and interpretation. The sharp vocals add depth to the music and many of the arrangements (like in “Black Lines”) add a fourth instrument to the mix. With less compression in the mix, the vocal version would surpass the instrumental one. Unfortunately, the vox are a bit too loud. Regardless, both versions have sucked me in and this is turning out to be a last-minute list selection for ole Grier.4