(These are Grant Skelton‘s thoughts about the remarkable new album by the Seattle-based funeral doom band Un, which is out now via Translation Loss Records, along with thoughts by vocalist/guitarist Monte Mccleery.)
In Thus Spake Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:
“What have we in common with the rose-bud, which trembleth because a drop of dew hath formed upon it?”
A rose is a floral archetype. For centuries it’s been associated with romance, youth, and sensuality. Furthermore, it represents a paradox — a juxtaposition of beauty and pain. A rose is beautiful to behold with the eye, but painful to hold with the hand. In Nietzsche’s metaphor, the rose trembles. It trembles because it has been acted upon by precipitation. By the vicissitudes of nature. By the weight of something it needs to survive. While precipitation is a source of nourishment, an excess of it can be fatal to the rose.
“There was a certain sense of urgency to finish the writing process of The Tomb of All Things because I was just freshly recovering from a life-threatening illness,” explains vocalist Monte Mccleery. “My mortality was always at the forefront of my mind at the time and I felt like we had to finish the album as soon as possible.We didn’t have that with Sentiment, and so I think it’s a more focused and polished record.”
In my view, mortality is an appropriate theme for Sentiment. Our beloved metal genre is replete with death and all of its analogous symbols and motifs. Skulls, coffins, cemeteries, burial… we even have a sub-genre called “death” metal.
But that’s not the kind of relationship with death that Un’s new album has. Sentiment doesn’t view death with the theatricality that much other metal appears to. “It was really important for us to find a title that was an honest reflection of ourselves and the music we are writing,” says Mccleery. “It was also important to us to stand out from the total grim desperation that you find in a lot of doom and death metal records these days.”
Is being alive a good thing? Let us cast aside our Western empiricism and cultish optimism for a few moments and ponder that. If any NCS readers are familiar with the nonfiction work of horror author Thomas Ligotti or biologist David Benatar, then you know their answer: being alive is not “good.” Lyrically, much of the funeral doom metal and depressive black metal we enjoy here would unequivocally agree.
Note the contrasts of color in the powerful cover art for Sentiment. Again, here we see the meeting of beauty and pain. They are not separate, and they are not opposite. They are woven together into a tapestry where each enhances the other. Rather than having ethical qualities, they are artistic dimensions and color palates. They are parts of a whole, as Mccleery elaborates:
“The core emotional aesthetic of the album was inspired by the Nietzsche quote, ‘What have we in common with the rosebud, which trembles because a drop of dew is lying upon it?’ To me, this paints a very specific picture about the fragility of the human experience. It’s beautiful, yet delicate and finite. The rosebush itself is obvious, but we also wanted to incorporate crumbling architecture and elements from our home in the Northwest (water, trees, and mountains). The painting depicts a landscape obviously shaped by hardship, while still holding on to beauty and hope.”
I realize that I haven’t told you a single thing about the music of Sentiment. That wasn’t something I intended, the review just happened that way. I’m attached to this album, in a way that I don’t know that I’ve genuinely experienced in many years. It’s just not enough for me to tell you that it’s “great,” “awesome,” or “incredible.” Because those words don’t fully convey the deep recesses of blood, tears, and fire that this release has to offer.
As Mccleery put it, “If people find hope in what we do, I think that’s really great, but sometimes hope can be a distraction from reality. For me, what I want people find in our music is gratitude and humility and the kind of honesty you only get from being stripped down to absolutely nothing so that you can learn from your mistakes and grow again. But alas… maybe that can be called hope.”
Sentiment has the power to back a person away from a ledge. To take a razor away from a wrist and discard it. It’s the kind of album that will make you feel like a conqueror because today you mustered up the energy to put both of your feet on the floor and get out of bed. To bathe yourself even if you feel like you don’t deserve to be clean. If this is you, please take heart. Treat yourself like you would an ailing, infirm person. Be gentle and kind to yourself. You’re fragile. And you won’t be around forever. So harness your grief, your anger, your despair – and find power in it.