Friday, May 13, 2011

Under the Sun - Man of Sorrow (2010)

I enjoy albums that have range.  As much as I like a good album that's highly consistent from start to finish, I also enjoy albums that have some degree of experimentation or just "toying around" with the style to try new things and do something a bit outside the norm.  You can write, perform, and play a style to perfection, but if you're just aping everyone else in your chosen field, you're only going to go so far.  Bands who do things differently, even if they don't tread off the beaten path too far, generally are well-remembered for being different and for taking the road less traveled in order to put their own stamp on a particular genre.  If their debut is any indication, Under the Sun may just be remembered for this approach.

That's not to say that there isn't plenty of "follow the leader" kind of stuff going on here, as there is.  Under the Sun works very much under the framework of the doom/stoner metal vibe here, having both a reliance upon the early 80's Trouble-esque doom metal formula, as well as a penchant for a heavy, fuzzed-out distortion and melodic sense that in some ways recalls early Black Sabbath, but often more in spirit than in sound.  The thing that sets them apart is that there are other influences and touchstones at work here, some subtle, some not so subtle, that give an interesting "blended" feel to the band's sound that gives it that little something extra to differentiate them from the hordes of doom bands that have come and gone since the early 1980's post-Ozzy Black Sabbath explosion took place.

The 1st track "Stride", despite suffering from some editing issues (which the band eluded to in an interview on, is an interesting slice of doom metal with two traditional doom metal bits interspersed with some lighter, more 70's-influenced clean guitar parts that bookend a nice rootsy sounding doom number.  "Divinity" has a different vibe to it, which has a real heavy 70's fuzz vibe and almost sounds like an homage to Fu Manchu at times.  Indeed, this track could have been on their "The Action Is Go" album and fit nicely among those tracks.  Both "Bruised" and "To Sleep With Anger" are meaty traditional doom metal tracks with plenty of muscle, while "Joy" is a unique song with some nice clean guitar riffing and a lazier pace that is a nice addition to the album.  "Forgiveness" is another clean guitar song with an interesting sort of alt-rock vibe that hearkens back to a late 60's, early 70's kind of lazy psychedelia that I like.  It almost sounds like the lighter, trippier stuff Trouble may have done if they'd have pursued a more psych-rock direction after Plastic Green Head.  The title track is a reading of Isaiah 53 over more trippy, psychedelic rock until around 3 minutes, then the last 4 minutes is a bit of a slow burn of down-tempo, lightly psychedelic rock.

Clean guitars sound great, with the right amount of reverb, and distorted guitars have a real heavy "fuzz" feeling to them.  They don't crunch, necessarily, but are sufficiently heavy when they need to be, lending a real weight to the heavier songs.  Bass work blends in nicely with the mix, but is audible when it needs to be, such as in the songs where there is less (or no) distortion in use.  Overall, the bass guitar sounds good here, never overpowering anything, but being in harmony with the rest of the sounds.  Drum work is good as well, dynamic and varied when need be, always serving the songs with just the right beats, breaks, and touches here and there.  Despite the somewhat minimalist approach (being just a 3-piece), there is enough variety throughout to show more range than what one might expect up front.

Vocally, Dennis Cornelius reminds me a lot of Dale Thompson from Bride.  Not the mad, screaming Dale of Bride's early metal days, or the highly melodic yet still screaming Dale from the mid-period hard rock stuff, but from the later alt-rock stuff the band did, like "Drop", "The Jesus Experience", or "Oddities".  Dennis keeps things in the lower register, never venturing far from the baritone range.  His voice struck me as a bit odd upon first listen, but subsequent spins have proven that he fits the material well.  He's not a great singer, by any stretch, but he gets the job done and sounds good in context.  Lyrically, the band moves from subtle expression of faith and general positivity to full-blown Christian overtones and scripture in the final couple tracks.  Fans of doom metal in general are accustomed to "religious" lyrics, so this will be no change for the initiated.  Fans who enjoyed Trouble's early quasi-Christian lyrical approach will find this to be similarly affecting.

So what's the verdict?  The obvious issue mentioned before is the editing, which isn't necessarily the band's fault, but does bring down the score a few notches because it does detract from the listening experience somewhat.  This is most evident in "Stride", though the title track does have a bit too long a pause between the spoken word section and the portion of the song that closes the album.  Some kind of logical segue there, and in Stride would have made a lot more sense.  Honestly, that's the album's biggest flaw right there.  Some might say the disc is a bit too heavy on the lighter stuff (sorry, pun intended) and not enough muscular doom metal peppers the disc.  While I agree to an extent, I wouldn't say it's a detriment to the album on the whole, just something that listeners should be aware of, that the album is at least 50% heavier fuzzed out doom riffing, and around 50% quiet psychedelia.  It's not an issue for me, but some might find it less appealing.  Otherwise, this all sounds good and should make a fine addition to the doom/stoner metal fan's collection.  It's my understanding, as of this writing, that there is to be a vinyl release of this album to include 3 tracks not on the CD version.  I'm hoping that this vinyl edition will fix the editing and give the band a chance to remedy "Stride" and possibly "Man of Sorrows" so they flow a little better, and I look forward to hearing the other tracks.  Either way, it's easy for me to recommend this CD to any doom-heads out there looking for new tunes that will challenge their perception of what doom metal is and can be.


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