I’ve always wondered what chefs at fancy, Michelin-starred restaurants eat when they’re not working. This thought came to me as I was leaving the office the other day. Like many people—for the sake of my own sanity—I generally do all I can to keep my work and home lives separate. If this outlook is as widely embraced as I suspect, could it be that the likes of Michel Roux and Anthony Bourdain secretly subsist on a diet of PB&Js and grilled cheeses? Part of me sincerely hopes so. Whatever the case may be, though, I’m sure you can only eat so much foie gras and saffron before you start hankering after something a bit less frilly and complicated. I’d been listening to a lot of prog lately, so when The Blackest Volume: Like All the Earth Was Buried—the debut album from Michigan-based grinders Sunlight’s Bane—crash-landed into my inbox, it was to prove a welcome reprieve from all the extravagance, like a big juicy steak after weeks of nothing but caviar. I was positively salivating at the thought.
Sunlight’s Bane describe their sound as “grinding death and audio terror,” and they draw their influences from far and wide. Try your best to imagine what Anaal Nathrakh, Black Breath and Nails would sound like if they were mashed up into one band and you ought to get a pretty good idea of what these guys are all about. The band’s stated aim, simply put, is to return the quality of aggression to heavy music, and listening to The Blackest Volume is like being hit square in the face with the flat side of a shovel; it’s loud, unrelenting and violent.
Sunlight’s Bane are clearly not a band intent on messing around and offer nothing by way of an introduction. Instead, opener “Praise the Venom Shield” explodes out of the gate, going straight for the jugular with a wall of frenetic blast beats and oppressive guitar work. Capping off the onslaught are the deranged vocals of frontman Nick Holland, who sounds like a man possessed. His demonic howls, guttural growls, and hoarse shrieks are stifling, evoking images of an insane asylum and giving everything a maniacal, unhinged tint. Coupled with a songwriting style that lurches back and forth—the tempo constantly shifting and evolving—and it all makes for a record that is somewhat unsettling and yet gleefully cathartic at the same time. I had a huge grin on my face within seconds of firing up The Blackest Volume, and it didn’t abate for one minute.
As the album progresses, there is plenty more turbo-charged aggression on offer, but the band also have a knack for reining themselves in at just the right moments, plunging into deep, crushing grooves, as exemplified by “I Am the Cold Harsh Whispers in Hell” and “Dance of Thorns.” Such segments manage to take the air of vitriol and sinister intent of the rest of the record and thread into it a sense of brooding anticipation. With the exception of the occasional stripped-back interlude here and there, it’s about as close as Sunlight’s Bane ever really get to atmospherics, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t effective at ramping up the suspense in preparation for the record launching back into rapid-fire mode.
If there is any criticism to be leveled at The Blackest Volume then it would be that the production is little more than functional, and it does all feel ever so slightly overlong. Now, this is a tricky one because it doesn’t feature any bad material, but given the somewhat overwhelming nature of the music on offer here, it’s a pretty exhausting task to listen to it in one uninterrupted sitting. That said, in some ways, this adds to the character of the record—it’s not meant to be an entirely comfortable listen—so, in the grand scheme of things, this is a minor niggle and nothing more.
The Blackest Volume isn’t particularly intelligent, nor is it subtle or delicate. What it is, however, is loud, fun and heavy enough to loosen the fillings in your teeth. While it won’t win any awards for alluring atmospherics or exquisite attention to detail, it’s always satisfying to stumble across a debut album that identifies what it’s trying to achieve from the off and then absolutely kills it, and that is exactly what Sunlight’s Bane have gone and done here.