Metal has really pushed itself as a genre into truly exciting and intriguing pastures in recent years. Whilst some bands divulge into refining their sound in alignment to the various genres within heavy music, some seek to break down the barriers and treat those to thought provoking and riveting listening experiences. Emerging from the cold plains of Siberia, Russian four piece BELOW THE SUN have broken free from genre constraints with their sophomore release, Alien World. Taking heavy inspiration from Stanislaw Lem‘s Solaris, Alien World seeks to stand apart in heavy music, treating those to a listening journey that explores a multitude of emotions. But does the final product deliver?
The record opens with Blind Ocean, a Goliath of a track weighing in at just under eleven minutes, and instantly an ambient and suffocating atmosphere is created through a solemn and sweeping sound. The suspense is built before BELOW THE SUN erupt into a ferocious rhythm through guitarists Vacuum and Quasar before explosive vocal deliveries from Quasar himself kicks the track into life. This only lasts for a moment however as the track quickly transitions into a ambient passage of solitary guitar work and soft clean vocals deliveries which flutter the ears before transcending back into an explosive sound of heavy riffing and guttural roars, whilst the final two minutes shift focus towards isolated guitar work and synthesised sounds. Blind Ocean gives just a glimpse into the sheer scope of BELOW THE SUN‘s soundscape and the result is absolutely outstanding; as the shifting climate of the chilling atmospheric elements helps reinforce the sheer power of the band’s powerful sound to wondrous effect.
As the record continues to lumber and unfold, it becomes incredibly apparent that there is an awful amount of various sounds to be discovered. For example, Mirrors boasts tremendous vocal blasts from Quasar from the offset whilst subtle use of ambience helps reinforce the impact of the down-tempo rhythm from the guitars and Void‘s drumming, helping the track pack a powerful punch. But, similar to the Blind Ocean, Mirrors subsides into a period of isolation through solemn guitar work and ear-piercing sounds which comes across as alien in nature. It’s incredibly impressive how these vast transitions of pace and power compliment each other, and when the two fuse together the experience is absolutely harrowing. This showcases the scale of BELOW THE SUN‘s ambitious soundscape, and results in a truly stand-out moment on the record.
Indeed for all its power, where Alien World and BELOW THE SUN themselves shine is through their utilisation of ambience to reinforce their doom-driven sound. With every musical component originating from original instruments rather than synthesisers and samplers, Alien World feels incredibly raw and organic which results in a listening experience that is, for the most part, utterly gripping. However, there are moments on the record that are overwhelming, where the band’s ambition and cope results in moments that deflate the impact of the band’s sonic assault. Giant Monologue fails to really pick up momentum and feels flat in sections which breaks the immersion and the repetitive riff on Dried Shadows becomes tiresome as the track progresses. These moments of disappointment are few and far between fortunately and is expected from a band who are pushing their sound into every conceivable direction.
For the majority of Alien World‘s duration, you will be utterly gripped as BELOW THE SUN present a experience that is suffocatingly enjoyable to experience. Release‘s utilisation of guitar harmonies helps add a spice of melody to the band’s doom-driven sound and it expertly counterbalances the venomous blasts from Void‘s drums and Quasar‘s howling vocals whilst In Memories is a whole different beast in itself. Serving as the last track on the record, BELOW THE SUN shift the focus to solemn melodies through gentle percussion and isolated and sorrowful guitar work. The soft use of clean vocals really cuts deeps here and the track sends one last wave of emotions over the listener as Alien World gently comes to a close.
Alien World is a difficult record to process, one which will require multiple listens to truly comprehend the scope and ambition BELOW THE SUN have poured across the eight tracks on the album. Whilst there are moments that feel flat and will largely be forgettable, it doesn’t detract from the fact that Alien World is truly a magnificent record; one which showcases a band obliterating the boundaries of genre and style into a sound that leaves no stone unturned. Give it the time and attention it deserves, Alien World will ensnare you into a solitary and moving listening experience.
Alien World is out now via Temple of Torturous Records.
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