(We present Andy Synn‘s review of the new album by the Danish black metal band Sunken, set for a September 18 release by Vendetta Records.)
The term “categorical perception” refers to a psychological phenomena whereby human beings tend to separate stimuli – sounds, colours, etc – on a continuum into discrete, distinct categories, as well as how the learning of these categorisations influences our ability to perceive them as we grow up.
It’s a fascinating area, and one I can’t go into fully here (for obvious reasons), but let’s just say that CP is why you sometimes hear people from different countries struggling to differentiate between |r| and |l| sounds, and why different cultures sometimes even see colour differently.
As the smart ones among you might already have guessed, this phenomenon is pretty active in music too, especially when it comes to genre classifications.
For example, where you draw the line between Death Metal that’s “technical” and so-called Technical Death Metal, where you decide that something becomes brutal enough to be called Brutal Death Metal, etc, may be an individual choice on the surface, but it’s also heavily influenced by what you’ve learned, what you’ve been taught by others, and what you’ve been exposed to.
It’s particularly noticeable on the Black Metal spectrum, especially when it comes to asking people to define at what point Black Metal becomes Atmospheric Black Metal becomes Post-Black Metal… with the usual answer being defined more by personal preference than any actual sonic or stylistic properties of the music itself.
But there are always artists/albums who transcend or defy easy categorisation, and whether you like your Black Metal to be “Atmospheric”, “Post-” or pure as the driven snow, Livslede is likely to be exactly what you’re looking for.
Clocking in at just over forty-three minutes in length, but made up of just five tracks (the first of which is a sombre, scene-setting instrumental intro, equal parts simmering atmosphere and shimmering melancholy), Livslede strikes a careful balance between extravagant ambition and focussed execution, so that no matter how much each song stretches and expands, moment by moment, minute by minute, there’s never a time where the sense of continuity begins to falter or the central, guiding threads begin to unravel.
In fact, despite their length (or maybe even because of it) these songs are as dynamic as they are dramatic, marrying a sense of electrifying energy and relentless forward momentum which recalls the blast-fed bombast of Der Weg Einer Freiheit or Wiegedood, all blended, seamlessly, with a sense of haunting atmosphere and sublime catharsis that should appeal just as much to fans of Weakling and Wolves In The Throne Room as it does those whose preferences err more towards the shameless melodic extroversion of An Autumn For Crippled Children or the introverted ambience of early Lantlos.
Of course, those are a lot of big names to drop all in one go, and I’m aware of just how high (or low, depending on your perspective) a bar that sets, but please take it more as a sign of my high regard for this album instead of a cheap ploy to grab your attention (though it’s definitely that too).
Truth be told, whether it’s the scintillating melodies and seething guitars of “Ensomhed” (a song we premiered, whose early intensity and smoldering tension gives way to something even more vibrant and expressive in its second half), or the stunning aggression and doom-laden undercurrents of “Foragt” (which, again, conceals a dash of pensive, post-metallic ambience just after its half-way point), each of these songs is more than strong enough to stand on their own.
That’s not to say these comparisons aren’t still valid – there’s a moody, Agalloch-esque feel to much of “Delirium”, for example – but they don’t define the band, or their sound. They’re just useful directions to help guide those who may not know how to approach this album (not that there’s really a wrong way to do so).
Nowhere is this more obvious than during closer “Dødslængsel” where the band wend their way across the Black Metal spectrum, moving from Atmospheric to Progressive, to Post-, without losing that brittle, blackened spark at the core of things, as shades of Sólstafir give way to waves of Woe and an air of Alcest, all integrated as one in a continuous, unbroken stream of creative consciousness.
There will, of course, always be those unwilling, or unable, to look past the rigid boundaries and restrictions they’ve used to define and delineate their music tastes… and, truthfully, I doubt I’m any different in that regard myself… but Livslede invites us all to at least try to do so, to view the whole and not just the part, and to listen with an open mind and an open heart.
It’s a spellbinding, painfully honest album, and one which is well worth diving into the next time you’re looking for something as vulnerable as it is visceral in nature.