Recommended for fans of: Mastodon, Baroness, Byzantine
As I’ve mentioned several times already,2023 has been a pretty Prog-friendly year so far, with lots – if not most – of the year’s best bands and albums showing off their proggier proclivities over the last seven months.
Case in point, the new album from New York sludge-slingers Somnuri found the band really pushing the boat out and digging their proverbial oar into even proggier waters, and has been receiving widespread applause and acclaim from pretty much everyone who’s heard it as a result.
But to really understand and appreciate their newest album we need to go back to their first record, because it’s only by going back to look at where they came from that we can properly appreciate just how much progress they’ve made over the years.
So let’s get to it, shall we?
2017 – SOMNURI
The band’s self-titled debut quickly laid down an impressively solid, and seriously sludgy, foundation with the electrifying riffs and galloping rhythms of “Kaizen”, whose “High On Fire meets Mastodon” vibes make up for what they lack in originality with sheer headbangability instead.
Slower, and even sludgier, “Inhabitant” juxtaposes some moodily melodic clean vocals with some unashamedly nasty shrieks ‘n’ snarls – thus demonstrating that vocal versatility is, and will remain, one of the band’s best and not-so-secret weapons – as it builds, slowly and steadily, towards an even heavier finale, after which the more reckless attack of “Same Skies” – replete with sudden bursts of spiteful blastbeats – conjures up echoes of both early Byzantine and Inter Arma in its headlong, headstrong, rush towards the finish line.
“Slow Burn” is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a slower, doomier track whose brooding, Crowbar-esque grooves and simmering, Alice In Chains style melodies strike a sweet spot between Sludge and Grunge that the band would – spoiler alert – go on to mine even more deeply on future albums (though it’s already pretty damn effective here in my opinion, especially right near the end where both the heavy drumming and dreamy leads pick up even more), while the upbeat energy and distinctly (yet succinctly) proggy touches of “Welcome the Stranger” quickly make the case for why Somnuri have so often found themselves compared to early Baroness.
It’s the heavyweight grooves and ruggedly catchy hooks of “Pulling Teeth” – a song which straddles the worlds of Sludge, Grunge, Prog, and straight up Rock in a manner not dissimilar to the more modern output of Ohhms – which really sets the stage for the group’s future evolution(s), however, with the song’s eclectic yet cohesive amalgam of ideas and influences sounding very much like the product of a band who care less about genre-boundaries than they do about simply rocking the fuck out, with the subsequent Mastodon-ian mini-epic that is “Through the Dead” then taking this sense of fluidity and spontaneity (and, dare I say… fun?) and giving it even more space and time to play around in.
2021 – NEFARIOUS WAVE
Though it took the band four years to produce a follow-up to their debut, it doesn’t take long for “Tied to Stone” to demonstrate that this time certainly wasn’t spent idle, as the first track on the group’s second album, Nefarious Wave, is somehow even heavier and gnarlier than anything off their self-titled, yet also testifies to how much more intricately integrated their progressive and melodic aspirations are at the same time.
“Tooth & Nail” is, if anything, even more aggressive – again, think the more aggro-attack of Remission-era Mastodon and/or early Byzantine, replete with some appropriately multi-layered vocal parts to match – while “Desire Lines”, by contrast, takes the band’s established sound and pushes it further towards its most melodic extreme, without sacrificing their hard-earned heaviness in the process.
“Beyond Your Last Breath” is a little under six minutes of writhing Prog-Metal riffage and chunky, chug-happy grooves all topped off with an impressively vital mix of both harsh and clean vocals – with the latter, despite playing a more supporting role, being particularly striking – that further showcases the group slowly growing into their own skin… but it’s the final three tracks which really show you how far they’ve come (and which hint at where they’re going).
“Watch the Lights Go Out”, for example, leans even more heavily on the grungy melodic vocals and subtly prog-tinged harmonies, without sacrificing the heavier, sludgier side of the band’s sound – indeed, it’s to the band’s credit that, for all their increasing love of cathartic, clean sung melodies and increasingly proggy instrumental passages, they haven’t forgotten that hooks and heaviness often go hand in hand – while “In the Grey” pushes this dichotomy to even greater extremes, with the thrashy, Byzantine-esque verses giving way to a series of captivatingly proggy, clean-sung vocal refrains, all building towards one sludge-heavy stomp of a finale.
And then, finally, we’re left with the unexpectedly introspective Sludge/Grunge/Doom hybrid of the title-track, whose ever-(r)evolving mix of gloomy grooves and moody melodies serves almost as a map to the band’s greater transformation over the years.
2023 – DESIDERIUM
One thing that’s particularly impressive about Desiderium – and I hope you’ll all agree after hearing it – is how it manages to take such big steps, and make such major strides, with the band’s sound while still sounding like the product of that self-same band… albeit an overall more evolved and refined product, when all is said and done.
This quickly becomes apparent during “Death Is The Beginning”, which marries the band’s increasingly more aggressive aspirations with an even more proggy approach, with the resultant blend of soaring clean vocals and scorching intensity landing somewhere between Inter Arma and Intronaut on the Prog/Sludge spectrum.
“Paramnesia” then demonstrates the altogether grungier vibes of the album as a whole, paring back the doomier elements and substituting them with some suitably hefty, Soundgarden-esque grooves (not to mention putting even more emphasis on the engaging juxtaposition of clean and harsh vocals), while twin sub-three minute ragers “Pale Eyes” and “What A Way to Go” double-down on the emergent, Prog-Thrash-meets-Post-Grunge side of the band’s sound, with the latter in particular delivering an irresistibly catchy blend of Byzantine‘s riff-tastic attack and Corrosion of Conformity‘s groove-driven swagger.
With “Hollow Visions” Somnuri drift ever-so-slightly more towards Alice In Chains territory – especially in the way they push the melancholy vocal melodies to the front while still letting the guitars and drums hammer away underneath in the heaviest manner possible – continuing to reaffirm my belief that several of the tracks on Desiderium could, with the right push, find a place in regular rotation on the heavier side of radio.
Granted, that’s less of an issue for a song like “Flesh & Blood”, whose bowel-quaking bass-lines would probably rupture most speakers if accidentally played at sufficient volume, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the terrific title-track – five minutes of sludgy Soundgarden worship with a subtly proggy edge – could be a bona-fide hit if given the chance to reach the right ears.
Heck, even the almost obnoxiously heavy “Remnants” possesses the sort of crooning melodic chorus refrain that helped make Jerry Cantrell and co. famous, while the climactic strains of “The Way Out” strongly suggest – to me at least – that Somnuri might do well to jettison the harsh vocals and play down the sludginess even further next time around, in favour of a more dynamic, give-and-take Prog-Grunge sound that’s still (as the album’s final minutes so aptly illustrate) capable of dropping the hammer hard when it needs to.