It’s a little known fact around these parts that, on top of being a connoisseur of sludgy doom metal, Mrs. Cherd is also a professional environmental scientist. Specifically, a soil scientist by education, experience and licensure, but she’s also a mean botanist. So when she discovered the existence of so-called “eco-metal,” specifically the sludge doom/drone band Bismuth‘s The Slow Dying of the Great Barrier Reef, which itself features an environmental scientist member, also a woman—representation is important, kids—she flipped her proverbial shit. As someone who explores themes of landscape, place and the environment in my own work, we naturally had some conversations about ecological themes in extreme music. We concluded that metal, especially doom metal, is uniquely equipped to convey the existential threat of environmental disaster at the largest scale, the human systems that are causing it, and the inadequacy of those same systems to mitigate it. Enter eco-doom band Sūrya. Greg, one of the guitarists, had this to say in a recent Cvlt Nation interview: “Some metal bands like to write songs about fucking wizards and Satan and I’m fully into that as theater and entertainment. But the sheer rapacity of capitalism and the epoch we find ourselves in, the Anthropocene, is the scariest thing imaginable. It’s just so fucking bleak.”
Sūrya hail from the United Kingdom, although they also have Spanish and Polish members, and play a sludge-tinged, post-metal doom that falls somewhere between Neurosis and Russian Circles. “Anthropocene” kicks off their second full-length, Solastalgia—a word that means homesickness for a place that no longer exists, first used to describe the grief of communities physically erased by open pit mining—with an unhurried build behind a spoken word passage until the distortion hits with a full-throated roar. The formula for each song remains similar, with riffs that advance and retreat like the tide, but well placed tremolos add emotional tension to passages in “Black Snake Prophecy” and “The Purpose,” while the clean guitars of interlude “Fenland” splits the album into two intense halves.
Sūrya‘s take on post metal is far from innovative, relying heavily on the quiet to loud to quiet, build and release template, however they play it very well. Each song flows naturally along affecting guitar lines, walls of distortion and propulsive drums. For an often long-winded genre, Solastalgia is surprisingly brief at 33 minutes, and although “Anthropocene” tops nine minutes, the average track length is a manageable six and a half. This has its pros and cons, as the exhaustion that can accompany all the clenching and unclenching in post metal is minimized, but the complex emotional journey associated with the best examples is truncated here.
Music aside, your enjoyment of Solastalgia will depend on your feelings about spoken word sound bites. When the human voice is incorporated into what otherwise feels like an instrumental album, it’s either a poetic reading by the band or samples from films or interviews about our collective disharmony with our environment. I understand why Sūrya would cull content from the urgent dialogue around issues like climate change, but I find most of the sound bites too didactic or, paradoxically, too vague. Most (rightly) reference capitalism’s role in the Great Up-Fucking of the World, but they too often resemble rants about “civilization” or “society” that could fit any malcontent’s agenda. Surely there are more incisive sound bites to pull from the last 75 years of environmental ethics, from Aldo Leopold to Vandana Shiva. Perhaps a larger issue is how superfluous the sound recordings seem on the otherwise organic song structures. When the band provides their own words, the result is more successful. The spoken passage at the beginning of “Anthropocene” artfully alludes to “that awful moment” of “the last great extinction,” and it’s more evocative than any of the recorded samples.
When discussing eco-metal, there’s a distinct difference between this and the nature worship of woodsy, pagan black metal. Where that is Henry David Thoreau’s Walden: romantic, individualistic, patriarchal, this is more Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring: a sober assessment of collective crisis. With Solastalgia, Sūrya have crafted a sturdy post/doom metal album that effectively touches on an enormously bleak subject, but struggles to hit you with its full weight as they literally try to find their voice. Doom metal is, however, a perfect vessel for such themes, and I’ll watch Sūrya‘s future output with interest. They seem close to reaching a level where lyrical content and musical chops fall into place with power and nuance.