(Andy Synn brings us another edition of THE SYNN REPORT, focusing on a band who’s off our usual beaten path.)
Recommended for fans of: Nine Inch Nails, Ulver, A Perfect Circle
So this will be the third Synn Report in a row emanating from the British Isles… I’m not sure why… possibly some sort of deeply repressed guilt or sense of ingrained responsibility to the UK metal scene? Who knows. Don’t worry though, I’ve already set out who the next edition is going to focus on, and they’re not from the UK, so I think we’re safe from any pro-imperialist accusations.
After two distinctly death metal flavoured editions in a row we’re heading into more unusual waters this time around, with a band who come to NCS from a rather different direction.
Forming in 1998, Sunna have had a very up and down career in the British underground. Arriving at the tail end of the nu-metal years the group were lucky enough to avoid being tainted with the same artificially-angsty brush, while also benefitting from a renewed interest in more arty and more dramatic forms of rock/metal (which some would say was a counter-counter-culture response to the more… clunky… forms of mainstream metal at the time).
Dealing in a sound somewhere between the industrial groove of early Nine Inch Nails, the pulsing ambience of Massive Attack, and the soaring riffage of A Perfect Circle – with underlying influences from both Bowie and The Beatles (at their most psychedelic) – the group delivered their well-received debut in 2000, before completely and unexpectedly falling off the radar. It was over nine long years later that the group would return with their follow-up record, continuing even further along their esoteric, industrial/electro-ambient path.
By the release of their third album the band were essentially a solo project of vocalist/guitarist Jon Harris (along with contributions from a number of notable other musicians), but continued to deal with their themes of inner turbulence and turmoil through the medium of their complex compositions and thought-provoking, often painfully honest, lyrics.
ONE MINUTE SCIENCE – 2000
The band’s debut album leads with the eerie opening of “I’m Not Trading” transforming into a combination of thick, brooding bass lines and taut, precision drumming, bursting with bitter guitar work and an anxiety-inducing refrain of “I don’t like you, and I never will”.
Coming down from this, the depressive vibe of “Preoccupation” flows with a languid, fluid grace, all raindrop acoustic guitar notes, cloudy synths, and dreamy vocal musings, before the mechanical stomp of “Power Trip” swarms into view with its buzzing, pneumatic guitar-led attack.
With little more than an acoustic guitar and a single vulnerable vocal line, the fragile strains of “I Miss” conjure a sorrowful atmosphere underpinned by a background of teasing electronic embellishments, building to a peak of haunting strings and tentative, almost reverent drumming.
“Insanity Pulse” lives up to its name with its currents of claustrophobic bass and spasms of industrialised guitars wrapped around a core of psychedelic vocal melodies and cybernetic synth work. By contrast, the liquid melancholy of “Too Much” is all slow-burning ambience and phantom electron pulses that loops and repeats in a carefully controlled burn of shivering atmospherics.
The painful honesty of “O.D.”, bleeds an atmosphere of sun-kissed bliss and weather-worn anxiety, through its irresistible, addictive chorus, which in turn leads perfectly into the tragic drama of “Forlorn”, a synthetic symphony of loss and desperation.
The sleepy lethargy of “Grape” is the aftermath of the night before, a sluggish weaving of subtle aches and half-remembered regrets, its smoky ambience intercut with explosions of abrasive, artificial aggression, built around a series of wrenching industrial guitar patterns and Harris’ disdainful Bowie-esque sneer.
Different, and distinctive, the first album from Sunna remains an underappreciated piece of post-industrial melancholy, an under-underground classic that deserves time and commitment to really peel back its many subtle layers.
Sample song: “Grape”
TWO MINUTE TERROR – 2009
After the narcotic trance-rock of “Spider”, the feverish pulse of “One Of A Twin” creeps in with its dark, filthy grind and derelict melody, capturing a sense of urban isolation with its hypnotic, rumbling repetition, and clashing, twitchy electric vibrations.
The phantom melodies and hazy ambience of “Know Who They Are” dredges up a series of whispering ghosts and haunting shadows, given shape and form by the song’s limber electric bass lines, tremulous vocals, and stark, stuttering beats.
A tense cover of David Bowie classic “Ashes To Ashes” follows, given a rattling electro-rock make-over, which leads into the looping, Filter-esque bass lines and stuttering vocals of “Rebirth”, injecting the album with a welcome dose of driving adrenaline.
The hungover melancholy of “God Says” takes the record down a different path, a soft, teasing drum beat guiding the rippling acoustic guitars and soothing synth lines with intricate care, as the lovelorn vocals weave their own subtle spell with a cold, sober sense of clarity.
The soporific undercurrent of “Heaven Sends” channels the trippy urban art of Massive Attack through a lens of grungy self-loathing, producing a gorgeous piece of subdued melancholy and creeping ambience akin to something you might expect from Ulver at their most electronic.
Following the brooding, spacious jam of “Empty”, all gloomy bass-work and Nirvana-esque angst, complete with a massive, strangled chorus refrain, the album closes with the brief (and uncharacteristically stripped down) acoustic track “Alice”, whose bare-bones structure and minimal run-time stands in stark contrast to the rest of the album’s liberal indulgence in unconventional styles and artificial elements.
Arguably less rock/metal friendly than their debut, Two Minute Terror deals in more atmospheric, more layered compositions, and should still appeal to those who enjoy music that is immediately intimate yet also more rewarding the deeper you examine it.
Sample song: “One Of A Twin”
AFTER THE THIRD PIN – 2011
The band’s third album appeared like clockwork two years after its predecessor, kicking off with the broken beats, slithering bass, and writhing guitar work of “Suffer The Pain”.
“Forced Attrition” offers more low-slung aggro-riffage whose sputtering snare beats lend it a more menacing vibe throughout, while the doomy, techno heartbeat of “Too Good” underpins a strangely addictive series of esoteric guitar lines and awkwardly rhythmic vocal patterns (as well as a captivating chorus and a twisted, Led Zeppelin meets Daft Punk guitar solo).
Forsaking almost all the metal elements of the band’s sound, “Dirt & Soda” is a haunted wasteland of chattering beats and lolling bass lines, bathed in neon light and looming shadow, soundtracking a downward spiral of depression and anxiety as it unfolds.
The six-minute “Hold Me Tight” is a clever mash-up of Tool’s progressive tendencies and DJ Shadow’s unconventional stylistic turns, guitars twisted and polished into strange shapes by the sizzling heat of the song’s undercurrent, while “Feel The Blade” is a more guitar-driven, yet also more melodic and focussed, tapestry of sizzling electrified riffs and precise, agile percussion.
The simple clarity of the album’s title track stands in direct contrast to the dance/rock electro-clash hybrid of “Emoticon Expression”, which has more than a hint of The Prodigy to it, albeit delivered in a far more introspective (and less antagonistic) manner, replacing sneering punk energy with a more depressive vibe.
“No Money” has a crunchy, post-Filter feel to it, drenched in desperation and bristling with barely-repressed angst, channelled through its meaty slabs of hulking, industrial guitars, while the teardrops and tremors of album finale “Stutter” end things on a minimalist, despairing note.
With a heavier, more guitar-focussed vibe, the band’s third album is more immediate than its predecessor – and probably more accessible to the rock/metal crowd as a result – but still maintains a slippery, unconventional style that allows the band to mould and experiment with their sound.
Sample song: “Hold Me Tight”
Sunna currently have their fourth album For Global Mourning up for pre-order at http://www.sunnamusic.co.uk/index.php, where you can also order hard copies of both Two Minute Terror and After The Third Pin.