The wellspring that is dissonant, experimental death metal has continued to deliver in past years, from the output of long-standing legends like Gorguts to that of comparatively newer faces such as Ulcerate and more recently Artificial Brain. It’s not hard to see why: the subgenre is built entirely around innovating within a more ‘standard’ death metal context of crushing riffs and thunderous vocals over furious drumwork, which often manifests in a renewed emphasis on free jazz-like dissonance and rhythmic trickery.
To say Minnesota-based trio Sunless fit this archetype completely, however, is to do a disservice to their sound. Much like debut Urraca before it, Ylem stands on its own as an amalgam of the now more established avant-garde death metal sound with heaps of psychedelic flair and an experimental spirit not unlike that of one Imperial Triumphant. One needs to look no further than Gorguts’ “Nostalgia”, one of many legendary tracks from the seminal Obscura, for a prescient demonstration of how these styles can meet in a death metal context, but much of the music on Ylem takes the potential of that fusion to its fullest.
Take the second half of aptly named opener “Spiraling into the Unfathomable”, which transitions smoothly from furious dissonant riffage to extended eerie arpeggios and hypnotic drum work from Taylor Hamel before a delightful off-time section fully takes the listener to dimensions unknown. Or perhaps the midsection of “Atramentous”, which delves entirely into a clean guitar sequence that almost harkens back to Mastodon‘s “Joseph Merrick” in its psychedelia, if a lot more sinister in its approach. These sections, a highlight of Urraca and just as potent here on Ylem, are a delight to experience every single time — and it’s downright awe-inspiring how smoothly Sunless weave them in the midst of death metal cacophony.
That’s not to say the heavier side of the album is lacking of course — quite the contrary. Single “Forgotten (Remnants of Life)” is evidence enough of this, transitioning from a clean intro not unlike something taken out of the classic Death/Cynic playbook before launching into the nastiest tremolo-picked riff this side of Artificial Brain. “Ascended Forms”, meanwhile, offers a slow-burn take on the genre, switching between a hypnotic verse and crunchy riffage. Guitarist and vocalist Lucas Scott also knocks out a particularly incredible performance on this front, aided with an even further improved and well-defined guitar tone than Urraca had on deck. More astonishing still is that Sunless are but a trio: Mitch Schooler’s bass work weaves crisply throughout Ylem, while Hamel’s drum performance anchors every last on-a-dime twist and turn the band have to offer.
Urraca had Sunless establishing themselves as one of the most exciting new faces in the world of dissonant and experimental death metal, and Ylem further solidifies that claim. The riffs are furious, the experimentalism brilliantly paced, and the extended instrumental sections cap it all off to make for a record that continuously delivers. But above all, no matter the tempo, the characteristic forward lurch of excellent avant-garde death is more than present here — and it never stops inviting the listener to willingly plunge further and further down into Ylem‘s cavernous depths.
Sunless’s Ylem releases October 29th via Willowtip Records and can be pre-ordered on Bandcamp above.