Review Summary: For all of its many faults, this is the closest Aaron Turner has come to realizing his art-house-post-metal vision.
As dissimilar as they are, you cannot separate last year's collaboration with Keiji Haino from Sumac's new album, Love in Shadow
. The Japanese noise-rock auteur has blurred the lines of what rock, metal, et. al for years which helped create the delirious American Dollar Bill
, an album by all rights Sumac was incapable of crafting on their own. After this experience Sumac went back into the studio to make adjustments to their already written third album, adding in the improvisational elements that made American Dollar Bill
such an audacious feat. Therefore Keiji Hano, in a way is credited with Sumac's most outlandish and impressive record to date.
In so many ways, Love in Shadow
succeeds as the art-house post-metal album that Aaron Turner has been striving for since Isis' Wavering Radiant
. In fact, most of the album sees Turner at his bravest, with areas completely devoid of his signature density and energy. For every moment of aggression there are two moments of ritualistic procession or an unassuming and airy interlude. Those that found Sumac's previous release, What One Becomes
to be too unwieldy might find a lot to love in this amalgam of post-metal, ambient, and jam-band aesthetics. It feels more free, more emboldened, but unfortunately, less tenuous. Acerbic bouts of noise in "Attis' Blade," for example, butt up to a very sparse but regimented guitar line which feels about as natural as it sounds. Most notable to this reviewer was a moment in "The Task," which felt revelatory
; a heightened and beautiful moment of complete restraint and nuance that felt so at odds with everything I have ever known about Aaron Turner. About halfway through the song suddenly stops. It slips into an incoherent, eerie, and spotty collection of guitar and reverb, feeling completely unlike the Sumac that just wouldn't let up on 2016's What One Becomes
; occasional shouts speckle a sparse landscape that calls to mind the quieter moments of maudlin of the Well or even Talk Talk. It continues. Then it continues to continue, until the end feels more like a favor rather than a satisfying goodbye. This is the moment that defines Love in Shadow
, an album of two parts: one part brilliance and the other, a dart board of ideas with darts haphazardly strewn on the ground.
It's difficult to say how Love in Shadow
would have turned out were it not for Keiji Hano agreeing to collaborate with Sumac last year. The jarring elements do feel shoehorned, like edits made to an already polished draft. These edits don't always feel natural, as if Sumac were imitating a sound they wanted, rather than a sound they actually felt. Regardless, Love in Shadow
is a startlingly unique addition to the band's catalog, and the most dynamic and interesting album that Aaron Turner has ever created. It's easy to see the multitude of cracks and smudges that besmirch this messy record. It's even easier, however, to just sit back and enjoy one of metal's weirdest and most fascinating releases of the year.