Sun of the Sleepless
To the Elements
- Year 2017
- Genre Black Metal
- Country Germany
- Label Lupus Lounge
- Rating Excellent
You may be familiar with Ulf Theodor Schwadorf’s work in both Empyrium and The Vision Bleak, but unless you’ve followed his material closely over the past two decades you may have missed Sun of the Sleepless. Originally formed as an ambient/black metal project in 1999 before evolving into an experimental act that incorporated electronic and trip hop, Sun of the Sleepless released two EP’s and a split before being put to rest in 2005. Twelve years later, Schwadorf has resurrected the project and put out a new full length titled ‘To the Elements’ which feels like a natural continuation of the band’s previous efforts that also pushes it forward into new directions. With songwriting that emphasizes aggressive, icy hooks and bursts of gothic and folk tonality, it’s an impressive comeback.
…one song will envelop the listener in frigid, intense riffing that feels like a powerful attack while another will adopt a warmer, nostalgic tone
Compared to the last time Sun of the Sleepless released material (2004’s split with Nachtmahr), ‘To the Elements’ feels a bit less experimental in its approach to black metal. But that doesn’t mean that the album is lacking in variety, as Schwadorf pulls in hints of gothic metal, doom, and even a little folk during some of the softer moments. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that these stylistic elements have seeped into this album, especially given the amount of time he’s spent writing music with Empyrium and The Vision Bleak, but even with these diversions in tonality the emphasis remains on black metal. Where ‘To the Elements’ really succeeds is in its ability to consistently deliver a thick atmosphere that washes over the listener, as each piece feels like it has been meticulously arranged to build to the most stunning climaxes possible. How each song gets there differs significantly, as one will envelop the listener in frigid, intense riffing that feels like a powerful attack while another will adopt a warmer, nostalgic tone. It’s an approach that works perfectly, and with plenty of strong hooks to back it up there is a considerable amount of substance that will keep you coming back after the first time through. The production values are also worth mentioning, as while the overall sound is much cleaner when compared to Sun of the Sleepless’ debut EP ‘Poems to the Wretches Hearts’ this allows the nuances of the songwriting to be easier to pick out while still allowing the more intense moments to break through.
Schwadorf splits his vocal work fairly evenly between raspy screams and softer clean singing, which brings some of his other projects along with some of Ulver’s earlier albums to mind. Much of my previous exposure to his work came through his softer moments, so it’s great to find just how intense and raw he can scream. It’s also the type of screaming where despite the jagged edges it’s fairly easy to make out the lyrics, which can sometimes be a rarity in this genre. Alongside the abrasive vocal styles, Schwadorf dives into a wide range of clean ranges that run up and down the spectrum. The gothic leaning moments deliver booming low pitches that hang over the recording, while the softer folk interludes have airier singing that has a wistful tone. ‘To the Elements’ is able to showcase as much variety in its vocal performances as its instrumentation, and this makes it evident that a considerable amount of time was spent fine tuning both elements.
A Sun of the Sleepless full-length may be something that a lot of Schwadorf’s fans never expected to hear, but it’s a welcome addition to his discography. ‘To the Elements’ takes the colder black metal of the project’s past and weaves in some of the styles from his other bands, wrapping everything in a slightly modern recording that doesn’t lose the jagged edges one would expect. Add in the powerful hooks and thick atmosphere that each song is able to create, and you have a release that will stick with listeners for some time to come.