SUNWHEEL - Industry of Death (2010)
It’s a daunting task, finding merit in something that one disagrees with, and perhaps no more so than in an area that is quite controversial. But on those rare occasions where ideology and aesthetic appeal are at odds with each other, at least in the mind of an individual audience member, one can take a level of comfort in the unsettling cognitive dissonance that can result. As a genre, black metal (including it’s largely disowned counter-genre “unblack metal”) is uniquely situated in a place where literally no subject can be labeled taboo (though certain ones have become cliche due to overuse), yet where its musical refinement has found it in a palce where it can appeal to a pretty sizable audience. Once the gates have been opened, curiosity will ultimately lead any unsuspecting newcomer to the lower reaches of its unashamed underground scene, and thus will often come a true test of how various societal norms and narratives will prejudice one against a particular band or work.
Covered in ancient European symbolism, suited for battle, and toting an unapologetically nationalistic worldview in stark contrast to what passes for commonplace in modern society, Sunwheel present a forbidding contrast to established cultural norms. This approach is by no means unique or new within the broader black metal paradigm, but the musical content is dangerously accessible and grandiose in its presentation, in stark contrast to what normally labels itself NS black metal. Rather than being confined to an extremely low-fidelity approach to production that is indicative of Ildjarn’s continual influence upon the extremities of the underground sound, the principle influence at play here is the early works of Emperor and Enslaved, combined with a level of violent militarism and aggression that is somewhat informed by Marduk, exaggerated to the point of resembling the death metal infused character of Behemoth. The presentation is surprisingly professional, rivaling the clarity of early 2000s Dimmu Borgir, while maintaining the necessary rawness to avoid sounding overtly commercial and safe.
The two masterminds behind this project and its long awaiting LP debut “Industry Of Death” in Melfas and Piąty are by no means newcomers to the art, and have already established a fairly impressive repertoire via their other project Kataxu (which is far more subtle in its politics). The blending of ambient and orchestral elements into what is largely a guitar and drum driven barrage of riffs and blasts is done in so tasteful of a manner that every moving part just fades into a monolithic, cohesive whole. The keyboards do tend to soften the impact ever so slightly, but are themselves tempered by a truly vile and putrid vocal approach that is a bit more death bark prone and guttural than the goblin-like high pitched shriek that was heavily prevalent in the early days of the 2nd wave. At times the feel almost takes on an industrial character given its military-like precision, appropriately so given the subtle hint at cursing the cultural excesses of modernism that are hinted in the title of the album, yet at the same time it avoids sounding mechanical and maintains an organic flair to it befitting its pagan nationalist underpinnings.
Albums such as this generally tend to function as a cohensive whole rather than a collection of songs with a few salient moments, but several of these songs do exhibit fairly unique characteristics when compared to one another. “Sickle Of The Antichrist” comes off as the most overtly traditional sounding symphonic work in this style, given heavy hints at influences from Emperor, Satyricon and Limbonic Art, and particularly playing up a long-winded, varied development of rhythmic and melodic content befitting an epic intro in the mold of “Into The Infinity Of Thoughts” and “Mother North”. By way of contrast, “Industry Of Death” has a ruthlessly aggressive character that channels elements of Marduk’s militant approach to things, and coats it over with an industrial backdrop that hints at a few Swiss influences here and there. Much of the remaining songs on here tend to be a bit shorter in length and play up slightly more conventional influences, with “Nuclear Flash” standing out the most with a heavily atmospheric backdrop and the most morose and twisted vocal display coming out Piąty, literally to the point of rivaling the depraved voicings of Lord Worm at times.
The most difficult selling point of this album is its political message, which most metal enthusiasts (myself included) strongly disagree with. But upon further examination, one will often question whether this should be the sole criterion for deciding to purchase an album. But if the overriding factor is a truly spellbinding listening experience, this would be the band to contradict one’s principles on. The sheer quality and passion that was poured into this 33 minutes of blackened mayhem is undeniable, as is the almost heroic character it emits by virtue of its unique combination of consonance and aggression. After all, it is not uncommon for soldiers to speak well of the courage of their adversaries, so the same could be applicable here.
(review from Metal Archieves)