The term “experimental” or “progressive” (and, to be honest, many other of this kind of terms) have an inherent flaw in them. In their quest to signify, they often imply that the accepted or generic ways (key word being “genre” here) to achieve the sound associated with them is the main or even only way to do so. This is one of the things which lead to the multiplicity of genre; when one is confronted by a band that’s labelled as “progressive” but doesn’t hear the sounds, tones, and chord progressions they expected, the urge to re-label arises. This can often be a fruitless exercise, since the new definition doesn’t really help an outside understand what they should expect from the music they’re about to play. The way forward is in redefining our root terms in terms of theme, approach or mood instead of specific sounds and ideas. That way, we can put our fingers on something more constant, more basic and fundamental to how a certain group approaches music, instead of “superficial” signifiers of that approach.
A good example of the efficacy of this new framework is Sunless Dawn. When we label the band as “progressive death metal”, we plant in your mind a type of sound, a type of approach that should be expected. You’ll imagine other bands that work in the genre and what you know of their approach. But upon listening to Timeweaver, you’ll find something different. Sure, many of those bylines of the progressive death genre will be there; you can expect drawn out solos, weird chord progressions, a celestial influenced concept, synths, and more. There’s even an (excellent) three part track, with plenty of callbacks, references, and complexity.
But the overall tone of those sounds won’t quite make sense with what you expected. There’s something weird going on with Timeweaver but you won’t find it in the actual pieces. Let’s look at the choir work on the album, for example; it’s most prominently found on “Collide into Being” and into “Between Meadow and Mire”, the second and third parts respectively of the tripartite “Biomorph”. They’re not in and of themselves strange for progressive death but they’re used in a very unique way on these two tracks. They start near the end of “Collide into Being” and interact with the guitars in a way which communicates mystique and grandeur but also an off putting sense of coldness and distance. Their conjunction with the huge guitar parts which also dominate this section of the track only serves to more accurately shine a light on how unusual those choirs really are.
When they move into “Between Meadow and Mire” (probably my favorite track on the album), they suddenly take this brighter turn which accentuates their size and role. It’s that kind of transition that we’re talking about when we say that Sunless Dawn don’t do things like you thought they would when you heard what their genre was. The entire album is littered with this sensation of being slightly off, not in the tonal sense of course but in the approach to composition and the meta-structure of each track and album. This makes it an incredibly thick and challenging listen but one which rewards loyalty by unfolding under your ear’s attention. “Between Meadow and Mire” for example continues to unravel into furious leads and infectious bass tracks, coupled with the forceful vocals which run throughout the rest of the album.
That being said, therein perhaps also lies the album’s major fault; it’s a lot. With a run-time of over an hour and a complexity which demands your attention at almost every moment, a complexity exacerbated by the unusual nature of the sound and composition, it can be a very tiring album. But hey, perhaps that’s exactly what you’re in the market for? If you are, if what you crave is an intricate and challenging to digest piece of progressive music, one which shuns the expectations of that genre and its somewhat stale adherence to norms, then Timeweaver is where you need to be right now. Just remember to give it time and be ready to listen again and again, often scratching your head and asking “hey, wait. What?”
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Sunless Dawn’s Timeweaver releases tomorrow, via Prime Collective. Head on over to the Bandcamp link above to pre-order it (or buy it if you’re reading this in THE FUTURE).