The NYC/Brooklyn metal scene is nothing if not vibrant, but I’ll admit my gut instinct if asked to described a common sound or characteristic is not to go with the sludgy, progressive metal/doom hybrid that Somnuri are cooking up on their debut self-titled album. And yet, a closer listen to Somnuri the album reveals a lot of what makes the scene so alive: a wicked blend of styles and technicality that doesn’t overshadow song structure, respect to influences without being overly slavish, and – above all – the innate ability to kick ass at any tempo. If you’re familiar with the music of Hull, Blackout, and Family maybe you know what to expect from this trio: a huge emphasis on volume, walls of sound that border on the edges of noise, doom, and stoner sludge. Take a messier, angrier Baroness, midway between Red and Blue (magenta?) and throw in a dose of the interplay inherent in great trio bands like High on Fire and you can start to feel what’s happening on Somnuri. There’s a good dose of progressive elements that don’t rely on technicality (although that’s not to say this band doesn’t kill from a proficiency perspective) but instead lend an atmosphere that keeps each track moving in unexpected directions.
And that starts right at the beginning with the opener, “Kaizen” ripping through with modulating ascending lines as Justin Sherrell evokes Matt Pike’s tortured vocals, the song lunging and dipping in a furious gallop until pulling the reins up for a dirge at the end. Throughout Somnuri amps sound like they’re on the verge of breaking apart, bass and drums roll in and out of step with the guitars (check out the screamed vocal sections of “Inhabitant” and the middle of “Welcome the Stranger” to see how effective the band works around a riff instead of simply locking in with it). “Opaque” lends some ambient noise as an interlude between halves of the record, with the second showing some surprising moments of uplifting hooks, as on “Pulling Teeth” which gives the vague impression of grunge filtered through a dirty back alley. The rhythm section of Drew Mack (bass, vocals) and Phil SanGiacomo (drums) really work to provide an anchor when required but also know when to let things breathe and expand a bit. It’s that telepathy that’s so ridiculously important in all bands, but especially in trios, and Somnuri have it. If they didn’t the epic closer “Through the Dead” couldn’t work, taking every style evident on other tracks and blending them into one massive song that leaves a strong taste of Soundgarden in my ears, which is never a bad thing.
Much as I love all of the great black metal coming out of the burroughs (Anicon, Belus…two bands coincidentally playing with Somnuri next week at Bar Matchless: if you’re in the area come join in the noise) it’s great to hear something outside the parameters coming through with the clarity and focus Somnuri display on their debut. This is loud, abrasive music that isn’t afraid to show off it has chops to spare without sacrificing the song. Brooklyn should be proud.