Longtime readers of THKD know that I’m typically not big on live recordings. But, I am big on Sol y Nieve; the upstart Idaho-based label has already released two of this year’s finest slabs of black metal in the form of Nemorensis’ The Lady in the Lake and Hellebore’s Anouof Thwo, so if they deem a live release to be worthy of the same treatment, then I’ll sure as hell give it a listen. I’m glad I did, because Sun Splitter’s Live on WFMU is a sonic nightmare of ultra-corrosive industrial metal that’s more than managed to win me over in spite of my admitted prejudice towards live material.
Granted, part of it could have to do with the fact that this is my first exposure to Sun Splitter and I therefore have no preconceived notions of what they should sound like based on their studio work, but the quartet prove themselves to be such a unique and engaging entity throughout the course of this forty-seven minute set I have a feeling any such notions would quickly be smashed to smithereens. This is some seriously harrowing, haunting stuff, the very definition of “outsider music,” combining industrial, noise, sludge and just a hint of black metal into something that’s impossible to put in any one little neat and tidy genre box.
What one first notices about Sun Splitter is their ability to create a soundscape that’s utterly hypnotic no matter how harsh the noise might get. Some of this is simple repetition; the band has a tendency to lock into a rhythm and ride it into infinity/oblivion, with subtle shifts in dynamics occurring just below the surface in order to keep things from settling into monotony. It’s a sound that’s somehow both dense and spacious at the same time, allowing the various elements to weave their way in and out of the mix whether they be distorted screams of agony, winding, Sabbath-ian guitar riffs, or synths designed to emulate the scraping of metal against metal, all without losing any of the heaviness inherent to the band’s overall approach.
Production-wise, Live on WFMU packs the rawness one expects from a good live recording, and yet it’s impeccably mixed; one gets the impression that any murkiness found here is completely intentional, creating a fog of dreary distortion and synth frequencies for the band to manipulate in order to further enhance the unsettling atmosphere of the music. The drums, which I assume to be programmed, remind of the drum sound on Godflesh’s Streetcleaner and I’m guessing this is an intentional nod to the industrial metal legends. Whatever the case, the drums’ stilted, ramshackle qualities mesh well with the noisy textures and play off the human instruments nicely; the struggle of man versus machine sounds like a very long, unpleasant torture session, yet is at times almost beautiful when Sun Splitter gets all quasi-psychedelic and abstract.
If you have any interest whatsoever in metal’s experimental outer-fringes, Live on WFMU is well worth seeking out. The cassette is limited to a hundred copies and includes a download code, so you can listen to this mechanical mindfuck anytime, anywhere. In other words, you have no excuses, so buy and die.