Review Summary: Totem is a strong effort from the noise-rockers, being as ethereal and creepy as needed.
White Suns are a notable noise and progressive rock band out of New York. Their sound is like no one else out there; mixing insane time signatures, spoken-word vocals, creepy sounds, and stilted guitars. Their first full length album, "Sinews" garnered a solid amount of attention and added some decent cache to this new release. I feel comfortable in saying that White Suns have arrived with a vengeance.
As far as sound goes for White Suns, they are a top-notch group. The vocals are energetic and charged with a powerful sense of angst. The vocal work is not utilized a lot in their music, thus making those moments mean so much more. The music surrounded by the vocals is the real attraction to the band though. The guitars are incredibly unsettling, sounding almost like metal scraping against a rusty pipe. The shrill, pulse-pumping guitar breakdowns can really get under your skin. The drums are fast, aggressive, and heavy. The drums are what really punctuates the idea of White Suns being a rock band. Most of their sound is debatable but the drums are probably the most traditional aspect.
The best tracks really display just how uncomforting and mesmerizing "Totem" can be as a listening experience. White Suns really know how to kick off and end the album well. The first track, "Priest in the Laboratory" is a beautiful start. The song switches between fast and slow paces throughout, leaving the listener to catch up. It is the grungiest song on the album, and the drum and guitar work is excellent. The final track "Carrion" really disorients to end the ride. The opening to the track is easily the heaviest guitar riff on the album, being pushed hard by the sped up drum patterns. There is plenty of synthesizers to fill up the heavy walls of sound, building to one of the creepiest sound effects to end a song ever. The true magnum opus of the album is "Clairvoyant" though. Being filled with screaming vocals and fast distorted guitars, it becomes hard to digest at moments. The lyrics dropped in the song are killer, managing to scare but also become highly thought provoking.
"Totem" still has a few problems though. The album is quite short for a moody artist of this sort. Only weighing in at nine tracks lasting under 42 minutes, the moods fail to carry over as much as one might wish. Some of the tracks feels like filler, which is a major problem for a shorter album. "Fossil Record" has a solid depth of sound, but it never really builds to anything tangible or worth indulging further into. "Line of Smoke" has a similar issue, creating an interesting mix of sounds. The maniacal laughter, bass feedback, and creepy piano keys are wonderful. However, the song really builds to a very anti-climactic finish.
"Totem" is bound to be one of the most original albums of 2014. White Suns create a distinct sound that can feel like running away from an unknown being in an abandoned machine shop or manage to make guitars mimic the sounds of scavenging birds. Few bands can pull off this type of work, even if the time spent in those landscapes can be a bit too short. "Totem" receives a solid and moody 7/10.