It’s no secret that the most interesting and innovative noise sits at the edges of metal, in the underground. Bands unafraid to do something new, something weird, something that challenges listeners in interesting ways. Shamanic doom outfit Sunnata (Sanskrit, meaning emptiness, voidness) are described as feral wilderness prophets and ft very neatly into this camp, their eclectic sound honed over three albums to date with fourth, Burning In Heaven, Melting On Earth furthering their sonic ambition.
Shamanic, wilderness and ritualistic are too simple a description for what the band conjure across the six tracks that comprise the album. Exploring themes of religious fanaticism from various angles, Sunnata pose questions about the sacrifice of individual-self and the general sense of trusting your life to some mystical, ethereal being whose representatives on earth are just as much flesh and blood as the next person.
‘Crows’ opens with thrumming bass followed by soft, ringing guitar and deep, resonant singing. There’s a moment of eruption into spiralling guitars and howling, cavernous vocals that fades as quickly as it came, before returning to a gentle, meditative state. This explosive moment recurs later for a little longer but instead of simmering down again, the album merely adjusts to a heavier, doomier tone. ‘God Emperor of Dune’ continues in a similar vein before ‘A Million Lives’ bursts through speakers, all serpentine riffs and rumbling bass driven by understated but effective drumming with layered vocal harmonies. That is, until the halfway mark when we’re treated to thunderous drum patterns under a wailing vocal line that echoes the throes of ritual before the song returns to its previous state.
‘Black Serpent’ follows this with its sludgier take with grungier vocal elements as well as a rollicking midsection with a maelstrom of guitar and fuzz. Penultimate track ‘Völva (The Seeress)’ features throatier singing that wouldn’t be out of place with Heilung or Wardruna, though the guitar modernises it considerably. The song builds gradually, adding complexity or newer parts gradually until culminating in a truly majestic, towering almost-chorus that swiftly fades. The band repeat this crescendo once more and it’s no less impactful the second time round. Finally, ‘Way Out’ does just that and rounds out the album with its psychedelic leanings, providing a calmer end to the tumultuous ritual.
The enigmatic, shifting riffs and textures are a hallmark of Sunnata’s sound, as is their way of recording live. That is, all instruments in the room at the same time, all playing together to replicate the same energy as playing live. What’s more is, it works beautifully. Their holistic approach and ritualistic doom-meets-shamanism meld together to form something that’s both crushingly heavy and wondrously uplifting in its shimmering melodies. Their psychedelic, shamanic take does lend itself to repetition and hypnotic grooves but the band neatly avoid the pitfalls of being overly repetitive. Instead they skilfully weave these along with a tapestry of influences from Pink Floyd to Alice In Chains into an all-encompassing, mesmerising work that’s as uplifting as it is heavy, as meditative and serene as it is tumultuous.
Burning In Heaven, Melting On Earth is easily their finest work to date and it’s truly incredible what the band have achieved here. To call it doom seems far too reductive; this is an exceptional album and a masterclass in ritualistic, captivating music.
Burning In Heaven, Melting On Earth is self-released February 26th.