Review Summary: Sarin returns after almost four years with a resilient and confident-sounding slab of metal to scratch the itch Aaron Turner left us with long ago.
It seems like every time I talk about Toronto-based metal band Sarin, I feel obliged to outline the many lineup changes they undergo. Since their 2017 post-metal behemoth Darker Lakes
, arguably their most fully realized album to date, they had their electronics/keyboard guy Brett as well as their bassist leave the band, all in the span of about a year after the release. And so the vast majority of these six new songs off You Can’t Go Back
, written at least as far back as 2018 (maybe longer), sat in this demo form until a path opened up again to get these recorded. From that point on, a slow but patient process ensued that saw some recording in London, Ontario, a new bassist (Andrew) officially join in 2019, a pandemic that dented everyone and their grandmother's plans for the entirety of 2020, and then finally a crack of light at the end of the tunnel. The band was picked up by LA-based label Prosthetic Records and now we have a final product to dissect and salivate over….exhausted yet?
It’s no wonder why You Can’t Go Back
is probably the most straight-forward slab of atmospheric metal Sarin has ever written. There are no experimental interludes and noodling to be found, it’s a no-filler, cut-to-the-chase kind of record. “Cold Open” sets the expectation immediately, hammering you over the head with a thunderous riff, with David Wilson’s guttural roars echoing across the track and the low end bass giving it a more meatier oomph than ever before. Someone has to mention it, so I will: the man still sounds like Aaron Turner to this day, but this time more reminiscent of his late-career work on Wavering Radiant
or Sumac’s material. The mix still works and is hardly a fault. “Thick Mire” builds into a slippery groove, like something off a Meshuggah album before expanding into a satisfyingly chaotic jam session, their liveliest track yet and does so without any vocals. Lead single “Reckoner” has a stoner-like distortion to it as well, with Dave and the band again crushing listeners, making you feel as though you’re being hit in the chest repeatedly but enjoying every second of it.
The band’s songwriting is in peak form too, potentially benefiting from their newest member who supposedly brings with him a wealth of musical theory and education. Like the best Isis songs, Sarin knows when to dial things back and many of the tracks here ease off at just the right moment, frequently switching into more spacier (almost post-rock) sections. For all it’s heaviness, segments like these help bridge between the album’s peaks and give the record more of an uplifting and inspiring tone rather than one filled solely with rage. It makes the finishing moments off a track like “When You Melt” all the more rewarding when the band comes back into glorious form to bring the song home. “Otherness” is a late-album gem for this reason too, covering a lot of ground in its brief 3-minute running time. It’s softer opening moments give off Tool or A Perfect Circle vibes before enveloping you in a wash of guitar that feels oddly warm and welcoming.
It’s nice to see this band persevere through the last couple years. Like the rest of us, 2020 was a hard one to navigate but You Can’t Go Back
rightly reminds us that what we still control are our own thoughts and the way we react to these hurdles in life. They could have made this a purely angry album, but instead we leave it feeling invigorated and inspired. This is what the best music in this genre does, it feels larger-than-life and not so one-dimensional. Sarin once again deliver the goods, boldly releasing music in the same week as Cult of Luna. Nonetheless, one of the genre’s best under-the-radar ambassadors comes through to scratch the itch Aaron Turner left us with back in the early 2010s.