Sun Below – Sun Below Review

With summer fast approaching in my neck of the woods, some good old stoner rock vibes are always welcome. Up and coming Toronto act Sun Below are dropping their debut self-titled album and all the ingredients for a good old time in the land of fuzz and sand are in tow. Sun Below boast a stripped back, garage-y production, fat guitar and bass tones, laid-back jammy vibe, lots of trippy psychedelic flourishes and crude, no-nonsense vocals. The music evokes sun-drenched road trips on lonely highways, cold brews in good company, and the chilled, at ease atmosphere that is a signature of the style. But do Sun Below possess enough creative juices and songwriting chops to stand out from the crowded field?

Smokey hints of Kyuss, Electric Wizard and Acid King float through the Sun Below sound, as they riff, swagger and stumble through a mammoth opus, clocking-in at a whopping 71 minutes. Three of the nine tunes presented tip the scales at ten minutes plus in a sign of confidence and ambition. Opener “Chronwall Neanderthal” rumbles and grooves in modestly entertaining fashion, bringing rather lively energy and the less than stellar shouts and bellows of frontman/guitarist Jason Craig. The vocals are the definition of a mixed bag. Craig takes lead, with backing duties occupied by the remaining two band members, drummer Will Adams, and awesomely named bassist Garrison Thordarson. While never a particular strong point, the vocal variations are more appealing when employing the rough-hewn cleaner style evidenced on cuts such as the trippy, far too long ramble of the intermittently interesting “Holy Drifter.”

Unfortunately, Sun Below‘s penchant for extended instrumental jams and exorbitantly lengthy compositions and indulgences bog the album down significantly. I’m all for a good jam, but the writing isn’t there to engage across such extended journeys. Too often during the album’s flow I found myself tuning out or losing interest, the tunes frequently meandering, even in more palatable timeframes. Sure there are some tasty licks and easily likable moments offering base-level enjoyment, but the riffs are fairly stock standard for the genre and the hooks are simply not there. This is further evidenced when there are no vocal accompaniments to offset the psych jam fests, such as on “Bong Psalm.” That being said, the shoutier vocal style is rather grating in full swing, though at least “Kinetic Kief” angles towards heavier, harder grooving realms with decent results.

Sun Below favor the instrumental heavy forays of the stoner scene, each member possessing solid skills and obvious enjoyment of their craft. An intentionally (I assume) rough around the edges, loose garage vibe and no-frills production adds to the DIY experience. The wig out psych-jams were probably a blast to play, however, the payoff and striking dynamic shifts are just not present to warrant the marathon song lengths of the eighteen-minute slog of “Twin Worlds,” or the impressively weighty, yet ultimately overcooked closer “Solar Burnout.” Intermittently there are moments of laid-back fuzzy enjoyment and heavier, doom-laden heft scattered throughout. Unfortunately genuinely interesting or compelling moments are few and far between. While the contentious album length of the recent First Fragment tainted an otherwise fantastic album, here the marathon-length is far more debilitating due to the uneven writing and lack of unique elements or riffs to stand out from the pack.

Overall, Sun Below‘s confident debut leaves me underwhelmed and with no desire to return to it. Clearly the trio know and love their stoner rock, but to succeed in a crowded and too often monotonous field, they must iron out the troublesome deficiencies in their formula. Refining their vocal and production approach and taking some serious lessons in self-editing may provide the band with the direction required to craft a more cohesive, quality album. There is nothing offensively bad here, yet the collective flaws combine to derail the hints of promise in the trio’s psych-drenched stoner doom formula.


Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Heavy Psych Sounds Records
Websites: sunbelow.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/sunbelowband
Releases Worldwide: November 19th, 2021

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