Sundrowned - Become Ethereal (Album Review)

Aug. 12, 2021


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Sundrowned is the solo project of Norwegian musician J. A. Piscopo, created with the aim of merging the power and fury of different metal styles with the beauty and emotion of shoegaze and post rock.  For the band’s debut full length Become Ethereal Piscopo has been joined by three collaborators who have been able to help realize this vision, allowing for some stunning melodic peaks that wash over the listener with a somber yet hopeful tone and powerful climaxes where the vocals and instrumentals work together to create some harsher moments.  It pulls heavily from post metal of the last decade and classic shoegaze, and while Sundrowned still has room to branch out even further they still offer some truly stunning material that has stuck with me.

It’s clear that the band has aimed for a beautiful and ethereal sound early on, as “Babel” opens with softer cello work that immediately pulls you in before the distortion of the guitar and bass take over.  Compared to other bands that have been given the post metal and blackgaze tags, Sundrowned doesn’t try to drown you with a wall of abrasive sound that leads into melodic passages, instead letting the melodies drive the foundation of their songwriting.  They instead achieve the powerful peaks and harsher moments through volume, letting their layers of melodies build and build until they’re swirling around you.  It’s similar to the way that classic shoegaze could lull the listener into a calm state through pummeling distortion that amplified the melodies, but the way the songs naturally ebb and flow between calm and aggressive approaches brings in the metal side.  The press material mentions blackgaze and I do hear that at some points when the drums throw in some blast beats and the guitars get just a bit darker and more distorted, but to my ears the textures were much closer to post metal/rock like Rosetta and Mouth of the Architect as well as shoegaze like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive.  It’s a mixture that works well, and Sundrowned achieves some truly stunning moments on tracks like “Babel” and “O Dom Da Fé” that stir up a wide range of emotions each time through.  Admittedly a few of the songs in the middle of the album start to rely on some similar elements to reach their peaks and do still sound just a little too close to other post metal, which leaves room for further growth and progression.  Yet I’ve still found myself hitting the play button again and again, as Become Ethereal has hooks that get under your skin and make you want to dive back in.

There are some instrumental sections that offer some harsher tonality, but for the majority of Sundrowned’s debut the abrasive and aggressive elements come courtesy of the vocals.  Coming in as lower growls that tower above the melodies, the contract between the beauty of the instrumentation and anguish and power of the vocals is what helped Become Ethereal really stand out for me.  This is also where I’m reminded the most of Rosetta, as the performance here has the same immensity as Mike Armine did on albums like The Galilean Satellites and Wake/Lift.  While the pitch doesn’t change much over the course of the material, the verses are all spaced out well enough so that it isn’t repetitive sounding.  The one exception is on “The Eternal”, where guest singer Emilie Østebø provides much softer tones that fall somewhere between shoegaze and folk, and this is an element I wouldn’t mind Sundrowned continuing to utilize on future material.

I think that listeners expecting the usual weight and aggression of blackgaze or even some post metal might find that Become Ethereal isn’t quite what they’re expecting, as this is more like a shoegaze and post rock album filtered through some metallic elements.  Taken in that context, Sundrowned delivers some beautiful and haunting songs that make for a truly exciting debut while providing room to expand further in either melodic or harsher directions.  It certainly caught me by surprise with how fully formed and expansive the sound already was on album number one, and I’ll be keeping an eye on what Piscopo and company do in the future.  Become Ethereal is available from Fysisk Format.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg

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