“All philosophies in the world / are mental fabrications; / There has never been a single doctrine / By which one could enter the true essence of things. // By the power of perceiver and perceived / All kinds of things are born; / They soon pass away, not staying, / Dying out instant to instant.” Avataṃsaka Sūtra
For ourselves, for others, for ourselves and others. We naturally seek purpose in one of these given directions for the sake of our poorly examined understanding of causation. The “good” or, most common trait sought when lacking meaning in the midst of existence typically leads human beings to the follies of the nearest religion, whom fervently promise to sate at least one of these paths. Of course the result is a “carrot on a stick”, an incomplete happiness that has been particularly obvious to those studying histories of Christian and Islamic societies these last couple of thousand years which have been consistently war-torn and ruthlessly destructive of unique culture. The zealot arises most heartily from the crowd when the major difficulty of “for ourselves and others” presents itself, segregation allows for hierarchy of population that satisfies the most inherently insecure and competitive. The most devout, outspoken and visibly pious monotheists are guaranteed to bear a clouded delusion of superiority wherever they walk, and likely rule. Those who are allowed to rule follow a very different version of religion than those who serve them as slaves, the servant at pulpit or in political session more often than not seethes with disgust for their underlings. If you are blind to this then you are nothing short of an ascetic beggar for the sake of fattening cannibalistic hogs. When all churches have burned and all overlords are beheaded there is no certain happiness that will result, violence bears no guarantee beyond trauma, yet this notion of satisfaction by way of corruption’s collapse lasting for generations has leagues of precedence in human history. Polish ‘shamanic doom’ metal quartet Sunnata suggest the “good” that we seek within our relatively short lives cannot be found within unquestioning faith or under brutal leadership, instead they posit “for ourselves and others” as a necessary balance to attain on their fourth full-length ‘Burning in Heaven, Melting on Earth‘.
Your ears do not deceive you, though this description of “shamanic doom” is fitting in an abstract sense an exact conglomeration of influences grows increasingly difficult to sum in few words as these Warsaw-based fellowes reach their fourth major release. In digging up past works we see a pile of fresh ideas nearby savory inclusion of psychedelic rock movements, grunge attuned melodic handiwork, atmospheric sludge/post-metal’s rhythmic freedoms, and some increasing influence from meditative doom metal work which seems to have developed alongside certain neo-psychedelia movements worldwide. With consideration for Poland’s ever richening stoner and doom metal landscape these are outlier works from folks who shouldn’t be considered ‘outsiders’ so much as creative and somewhat fearless explorers beyond ground they’d tread themselves for years prior. Just keep in mind I warned you about “grunge influences”, perhaps speaking to a bit of Alice in Chains and a few bands who’d survived the flannel movement via sludge mutation. Also: Satellite Beaver? Yep, the first five years of this band were formative yet inspired under a curious stoner rock kinda name having released their first official EP (‘The Last Bow‘) in 2012. From that point they’d change the name and change direction, moving away from bounding and gritty 90’s stoner rock n’ metal chunking to, well, stoner metal with doom and modern sludge metal ideas in tow. Think of later Kyuss taken up to High on Fire‘s level of thump on ‘Blessed Black Wings’ and you’ve got an idea how their debut (‘Climbing the Colossus‘, 2014) landed. To be fair they’d eventually remastered it to calm some of the rough edges of the record but any version of that first album is a bit of a monster. The follow-up, ‘Zorya‘ (2016) would embrace the gigantic-as-possible vibes provided by Satanic Audio (who’d remastered the first album) while embracing the general mixture of alt-metal moods and stoner doom/sludge metal textures you’ll find in each Sunnata record beyond that point. Though their sound has certainly evolved since, this was basically the point of impetus, the lotus opening and the serious spiritual face of the band revealing the larger goalpost.
Ritualistic, meditative, harmony rich, uplifting yet fearsomely heavy the praise for ‘Outlands‘ (2018) was hardest to ignore as Sunnata breached the usual stoner music outlets for the sake of their inarguably unique combination of elements. It was the prior album that’d kind of earned the most goodwill but ‘Outlands’ was the one that proved the greater set of building blocks they were working with could all be modulated and still sound like themselves. The title track’s blend of “oriental” melodies and later Alice in Chains glowering harmonized movements more or less helped to justify the “unique” tag all literature on Sunnata‘s legacy seemed to suggest as I discovered the band from that point. Perhaps even more curious and impressive, even as we enter the shadow of their fourth album, is that they’ve kept all of this going via fairly regular independent release of each record. Despite the tragedian horrors of 2020 and the impossibility of live shows in the flesh they’ve not “cheaped out” on this one, though the experience is less of a “stoner metal” fuzz bludgeon as ‘Burning in Heaven, Melting on Earth’ aims for what I would describe as theatrical yet meditative sense of movement, all things set in motion rise and fall with equal momentum. The choice to not go maximal might scare off the truest of the fuzz-chunkers out there initially but the heavy emphasis on vocal harmonies, “progressive” rhythmic play and guitar driven psychedelia makes for their most engaging full listen to date, at least for my own taste.
The album opener and first single, “Crows“, feels entirely precarious as the ‘A Sun That Never Sets’-esque spoken-sung vocal from SZY swerves beyond his thick Polish accent as watery psychedelic strums and driving bass bring tension to this freshly opened curtain. I mention early 2000’s Neurosis for good reason as the rhythmic map of this song is unpredictable, aggressive, and ever-expanding much to the tune of what’d made early post-metal ideology so compelling; This isn’t necessarily what makes “Crows” such a good song and a surprising opener, the vocal performances are an admirably bold leap into the unknown, but the tone set therein is perhaps more professional than expected. The ease at which these opening movements express slides things along so quickly that they’d begin to beg for greater analysis later on. “God Emperor of Dune” is yet a separate entity, a nine minute meditation on this “oriental” doom metal feeling featuring a sort of call and response between the vocalist’s lines and the choral affirmation (or expansion) provided. There is the sense that bands like Ufomammut or Shrinebuilder would fix this sort of piece in the middle of an album to create breathing room and perhaps a peak in the middle of the song to explode out of but Sunnata have opted for an intensifying central guitar mantra threaded throughout several peaks. Yes, we’ve fully entered this meditative doom metal headspace at this point yet you cannot judge the whole of ‘Burning in Heaven, Melting on Earth’ based off of any one song, as evidence by the grungy stoner rock jog of “A Million Lives”, which’d end up being one of my personal favorite pieces on the album. Not for the sake of style but for the context in which it arrives on the running order, in between two of the longer pieces which use repetition to ensure they’ve landed their 8+ minute purpose, it is a fresh hit of faster pace and melody to break up the relaxed core of the record.
The second single, “Black Serpent“, suggests that if Sunnata continue down this path they won’t leave behind their stoner/doom metal energy but rather translate it into pieces that persist far and wide from the norm. If you’d been a fan but felt they’d been putting off a leap into the unknown thus far, this’ll certainly be the clarification of that having happened. They’ve gone off the deep and and it is pretty chill, actually. The alt-metal choruses of “Völva (The Seeress)” take us back to Earth, this’ll speak most directly to the style of ‘Outlands’ and for my own taste it was a bit overlong and predictable after several inventive pieces prior. Just because I’m prone to lose my chill doesn’t mean I’d been out of it at that point but “Way Out” didn’t pull me back in for a grand finale; Instead this unintentional track-by-track commentary leaves me lacking for definitive great peaks to celebrate at the eleventh hour. I’ve found the full listen somewhat dry in reflection because of how it ends. The first half of ‘Burning in Heaven, Melting on Earth’ arrives with crystalline intent, plenty of admirable variation and a spread of ideas perhaps more ‘unique’ than prior works yet the final three pieces don’t push the envelope further. This is not such a slight to the greater experience but it does express a bit front-loaded with ambition. When it comes time to finally strike upon the bigger picture I’d suggest within the realm of meditative doom metal heavily informed by psychedelic, stoner and desert rock Sunnata stand out for their acknowledgement of grunge-era alternative metal as an important source of inspiration for any associated movement. Certainly not by proxy but rather by their own inventive hand these guys leave a memorable mark. It does say something that I didn’t find myself inquiring about the lyrics, wanting to dig deeper into the specifics of the journey it presents, and this despite the message of the album lining up quite well with my own post-Buddhist ‘western’ psychosis. All things considered, I think they could’ve pushed a bit more out of a couple of these songs. In terms of sheer enjoyment of its doomed psychedelic trip, I’d certainly recommend ‘Burning in Heaven, Melting on Earth’. A moderately high recommendation.
|TITLE:||Burning in Heaven, Melting on Earth|
|RELEASE DATE:||February 26th, 2021|
|BUY & LISTEN:||Bandcamp [All Formats]|
|GENRE(S):||Psychedelic Doom Metal,|
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