Review Summary: Combining elements of shoegaze, dark ambient and psychedelic with atmospheric black metal, Sun Of The Blind delivers one of 2009's more creative metal records.
As a guitar player and vocalist for Darkspace, one of the more creative and unique bands to be found in the black metal genre, it came as a bit of a surprise to me when Zhaaral out of the blue formed a one man project called Sun Of The Blind. Even more surprising was the quality and strength of his debut record Skullreader. Glancing upon the swirling orange artwork I wasn’t sure what to expect, a droning aural assault akin to Darkspace or something completely different altogether. Well, I came to conclusion that Sun Of The Blind were a little bit of both. Far more accessible and expansive than Darkspace I plunged head on to the hypnotizing prowess of Sun Of The Blind. Opting for ambient black metal in the vein of his main band Darkspace with a little Kataxu and Burzum thrown in for good measure, Zhaaral cultivates the potent formula by integrating hefty influences of psychedelic, shoe gaze, and Katatonia-esque melancholy to craft one of the year’s finest black metal records if not the best.
The shoe gaze influence can be felt in the heavy distortion and reverb that effectively fattens up the guitar sound. There is a lot of fuzz yet the production is quite polished and accessible enough for the most skeptical of black metal listeners to enjoy. Skullreader much like Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Kataxu’s Hunger Of Elements is heavily driven by ambient keyboards and pulsating synthesizers that transition from a wide variety of sounds and tones. Zhaaral’s comprehension for densely textured passages meld exceptionally well into the sporadically paced bouts of raw aggression. The melodic/heavy dynamic is executed extremely well in the album but especially on the opening 10 minute track Cursed Universe and the following one Lord Of Mind. Coming in at five songs with just about forty five minutes of material, Skullreader isn’t too much of a challenge for the casual black metal practitioner, especially when a quality album like this prides itself on variety and superior songwriting skills.
Guitar wise Sun Of The Blind differ from their brethren in terms of aggression, tempo, and purpose. Zhaaral’s goal is not to attack the listener with a barrage of hollowed out piercing riffage. It is also not his goal to haphazardly abuse the tremolo picking technique. Instead he incorporates a slow to mid tempo groove approach more akin to doom metal than black metal. The heavy distortion and reverb much less the synthesizers downplay the role of the guitar to provide catchy rhythms and head banging dirges. Nothing more nothing less. And that is the guitar’s strength. To subtly blend in with it’s environment without over exertion. B+
Although mostly an instrumental album, Skullreader contains your traditional black metal growl amongst a few other stylistic deliveries worthy of mention. Zhaaral’s growl for the most part is undecipherable yet aggressive nonetheless. The opening track “Cursed Universe” features some shaman-esque grunting before transitioning to harsh vocals. The song later converges again with clean male vocals echoing from a distance to close the song. Also worth mentioning is “Lord Of Mind” which unexpectedly and creatively uses operatic female vocals albeit briefly to deepen the already condensed atmosphere. A
The strength of the album unquestionably lies in the synth programming where psychedelic looping, haunting strings, and suffocating Middle Eastern influenced keyboard melodies successfully bind to the fuzzy atmosphere. Many bands are unable to work this instrument effectively, often rendering their music as cheesy (look at those pagan metal bands), contrived, and/or epic for all the wrong reasons. The electronic effects once blended with the lo fi production values and solid instrumentations makes for a hard to beat combination. A+
The bass is completely drowned out. I’m sorry I just had to say it out loud .The earthy rumbling I’m used to hearing in death metal is just not there, maybe because the album’s music is multi layered and the bass is tuned extremely low. Not surprising in the least to be honest but from the other spectrum of the rhythm section finds Zhaaral executing solid drumming patterns that flow nicely with the sloth like tempos. Repetition and simplicity are the tools of the trade here and he balances the heavy synth/guitar edge with a sufficient platform of mechanical bass kicks and snare hits. C
Overall fellow friends and wankers, Skullreader might be 2009’s greatest achievement in the black metal world. At least for the first half of the year because I find no apparent flaws with this dare I say it masterpiece. The structuring of passages and riffs are incredibly well handled. The synths are perfectly fitted to complement the guitars as well as adding an ethereal element to the subtle aggression. And closing off the album is the talented and intricate songwriting resulting in five stellar songs and one gem of an album. If you like shoe gaze, dark ambient, psychedelic, and black metal I see no reason why you shouldn’t check this out.