Have you ever found yourself wondering if everything is fine? Nothing out of the ordinary is happening, yet you find that nothing is quite as it seems. Maybe it’s the deep-seated paranoia that comes in waves while you sleep; after all, you did check everything before retiring for the night. The stove is off, the glass you used is on the table, and you left your keys in your bag. However, as you try to sleep, something moves from the corner of your eye, and you can’t help but feel that something is not quite right in your home. This is the feeling you get when becoming immersed into Unmaker, an album filled with a certain amount of dread that just makes you uneasy. You cannot trust what you are hearing – after all, are the screams sitting below the sludgy, sonic threshold inside your head or within the demented post-metal LLNN weaves into existence?
Just like their label mates Year of No Light, I found myself seeing LLNN during Roadburn Redux this year (bless the Pelagic Records showcase). Between the flurry of days where I tried to catch up with everything that I could listen to and watch, LLNN was one of those bands that I was unaware of but completely floored me. Something about the way they created one of the most sonically diverse and intense atmospheres during the festival made me want to see what they were like when confined to a release. Now, Unmaker is an album whose intensity and soundscapes make you extremely uncomfortable; however, once you get past that sense of discomfort, you start to notice some of the finer details underneath that intensity. Something about the way the music is structured makes you want to hum along, maybe move along, while you stare out into space. Unmaker has a heartbeat in its fetid corpse, but it’s slightly off – and that’s where its appeal lies.
Unmaker is an unsettling record because it asks you to take the familiar – or whatever the meaning of post-metal is – and deconstruct it down to its barest essentials. The harrowing screams, dissonance, sludgy reverb, and incohesive pacing makes sure that any expectation you had when approaching this record are completely out the door. What you get is an intense and hard-hitting record that makes your heart vibrate, feeling as if you are right next to the speakers at a noise show without earplugs. However, once you have finally become accustomed to the noise, you will slowly start to understand the groove underneath the surface layer of noise and dissonance. Although something hard to get into without knowing what is going on, Unmaker is one of the more accessible records I have heard of this caliber; its intensity and dense sonic atmosphere can be off-putting, but it weeds out the weak. It also helps that the first song, “Imperial,” sounds like The Ocean’s theming in Phanerozoic I and II; it gives you a moment to breathe before throwing you straight into the lion’s den.
I also wanted to take a moment to briefly talk about my favorite track on the album. While “Obsidian” may be the song that most people are familiar with, given its mid-pacing and tendency for fast drum and heavy guitar work, something about “Forger” kept me coming back. What sounds like metal hitting metal in the intro before the syncopated guitar and screams kick in and then immediately shifts into one of the slowest and most melodic songs on the album, which is such a bait-and-switch that I had to listen to the song a couple of times before I understood what was happening. At first listen, “Forger” is a weird song, but the more you focus on the finer details – the sweeping, toned-down screeching, what sounds like the highest notes on the fingerboard, and heavy, melodic synth work – the more the song makes sense. I found it to be a beautiful, well-paced track, compelling enough for multiple listens.
All in all, Unmaker does what it aims to do: it unmakes everything you have known about post-metal as a whole and dives into new, unexplored sonic territory within the span of 40 minutes. For a post-metal record, it feels quite short, but its pacing makes up for its runtime. I suggest you leave your expectations at the door and stay awhile; you may come around to enjoying this just as much as I did.