Sundrowned – Become Ethereal Review

Promising despondent black metal from the rainy coasts of Norway (and perhaps deriving their name from Møl?), Sundrowned and their badass name caught my eye in the promo pool. Influences including Alcest and Deafheaven indicated that this was to be Norwegian black metal of a type you may not expect, and the album’s title Become Ethereal accentuated my post-rock suspicions. Should fans of these bands apply? And, more pertinently, why is my review so late?

I’ll begin with Become Ethereal’s one sheet. This provides that the record “sees Sundrowned putting a deeper focus on dense atmospheres and melancholic melodies rather than the heavy riffage.” I agree. It’s typical of its scene in prioritizing mood and atmosphere above guitar leads and moment-to-moment delights. The hallmarks of post black metal are apparent through blended waves of guitars and synths, poorly defined riffs, and simple but emotive melodies. The introduction on “Babel” immediately marks an affinity with An Autumn for Crippled Children, with layers of guitars and keyboards conferring a sense of texture and depth. Become Ethereal’s mix is slightly more inclined towards its guitars, drums and vocals, and consequently away from its keyboards, but the music and production are similar. Passages which layer the electric guitars with acoustic ones also evoke Alcest in their harmonies.

The one sheet’s subsequent sentence, however, I disagree with: “still, the album possesses a strong and powerful metal sound that masterfully counterbalances the more dreamy and ethereal moment.” “Babel” progresses through one of the heavier, blackened passages on the record but the guitars and drums lack so much definition and crunch that they don’t sound heavy. It makes for pleasant enough background listening but not much more than that. The quick drums on “A Scent of Glimmer” are submerged beneath muddy synths and guitars so they’re heard but not felt. Neither the instruments nor the writing are really heavy except for the harsh vocals which have the hoarse edge of death vox. They lend a grittier edge but actually stick out for prominently being the heaviest element, and are almost too guttural for the music.

I’m reluctant to hammer too hard on Sundrowned as they’re essentially an okay band. Become Ethereal has hummable melodies. But I also don’t glean enjoyment from it. The music is insubstantial, like I can’t get my teeth into it. I know that mood and tone is the point here but how can I recommend an album that’s basically pleasant mush? “Ruins” loops the same drum rhythm (a track?) through its entire length which theoretically offers a foundation to construct and deconstruct melodies, but practically this results in a track which sounds like an introduction throughout. And “O Dom da Fé” is a damp squib of a closer, ending things with a repetitive and unexciting instrumental lead. Melodies ebb and flow but wash over me without catching. I’m left with mild emotions, whereas metal should invoke strong ones. Even the melancholy advertised on the one sheet is less melancholic than I had expected for the genre, as I hear a hopeful tinge in the music.

Sundrowned intend to generate an entrancing wall of sound to drape over their listeners. I don’t think they intend to leave them apathetic. But ultimately that’s where I’m left with Become Ethereal, as its lead lack precision, its synth melodies are only adequate and my emotions are unaffected. “Ethereal” is the one exceptionally strong track but this just highlights my ambivalence otherwise – which ultimately explains the lateness of this review. It’s impossible to actively dislike this album but also to actively like it. It may suffice as background listening for those post black-inclined but I expect it will fade from relevance rapidly.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps MP3
Label: Fysisk Format
Releases Worldwide: June 18th, 2021

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