The world can be a dark place. Often in music we seek solace in songs of comfort and calm. But none of us would be here if we also didn’t find refuge in art that takes the darkness of the world and magnifies it. Heavy music can bring about catharsis like no other, and sometimes you just have to find the darkest, most punishing sounds available to try to get your head back on straight. Michigan’s own Sunlight’s Bane are here to live up to their name, and bring you just such an album, one so pitch black and full of spite that not even the warmth of daylight can touch it, The Blackest Volume.
Fully titled The Blackest Volume: Like All the Earth Was Buried, Sunlight’s Bane let you know what you’re getting into right off the bat. Dense, dark, and vicious, The Blackest Volume is a whirling mix of black metal and grindcore, pulling from the most abrasive aspects of both to create a sound as sharp as the blade of a knife and an atmosphere as heavy as a sledgehammer to the head (also thanks in large part to the mastering touch of Brad Boatright at Audiosiege). Tracks like opener “Praise the Venom Shield” and “From Heaven Wept” mix the thundering blast beats and tremolo riffs of black metal with the savage intensity of grind and hardcore, while “I am the Cold Harsh Whispers in Hell” and “The Blessed Ivory Tongue” showcase a more sludgy approach. The vocals here carry much of the weight of these songs and serve to cement these two dynamics together; ranging from roar to noisy shriek, they perfectly carry the tension and suffocating atmosphere Sunlight’s Bane set out to achieve. This is a crushing affair that drives a sense of real unease into the listener with every discordant blast and menacing breakdown.
My issue with The Blackest Volume comes mostly with the pacing and structure of the album. The songs that start the album off are the faster, more raucous songs, while the second half of the album is stacked more heavily with the mid-tempo cuts. This makes the back half of the album feel like it drags on more than the initial half. The decision to not end the album on “With Fear This Love is Given,” a definite emotional high point and a track that feels perfectly suited to cap off the listening experience, seems like an unconventional choice, especially given that there is another 8 plus minute song following it. There also feels to me like a fair bit of fat could have been trimmed from some of these compositions. “Cursed Diminished Years” ends with a sample that feels overly drawn out, while “Dance of Thorns” could have been removed from the album altogether without detriment. With just a little restructuring, this album could have been a lean and mean first offering that would have sent Sunlight’s Bane blasting out of the gate.
At the end of the day, however, I would still rather that a band tried out too many ideas on their debut than to come out of the gate already holding themselves back. The Blackest Volume excels in its satisfyingly heavy atmosphere, and certainly has riffs enough to make any extreme metal fan happy. Any faults one could find with this album should not deter you from giving it the listen it deserves. There is always room for refinement, and on The Blackest Volume, Sunlight’s Bane have laid good groundwork for themselves to flourish into a force to be reckoned with.