Sumac’s Love in Shadow is an engulfing maelstrom, tearing emotions to shreds and stitching them back together as a battered, yet newly invigorated, reborn homage to love in its various capacities for anguish and growth.
The hour-long record is composed of four parts, each flowing through shattering orchestral movements without the need for classicism. The songs eat at themselves from within.
Opener “The Task” bursts out in a flood, careening downhill propelled by riotous drums that set the emotional drive in high gear. The guitar glides in a surprisingly airier register, along for the ride until things begin crashing down. The pace deadens to a centred, deeply spiralling dread until eventually chewed up into a rattling husk about twelve minutes in. The song continues to spread thinner and thinner until a muted bass line and guitar pickings sound like droplets from the walls of a cave, with the same contained yet unsettling atmosphere. You re-emerge into the daylight as “The Task” concludes with, of all things, an organ line underlining the hoarse screams of guitarist/vocalist Aaron Turner. This arc is indicative of the well-worn pathways of love, infatuation, desire, and their dark underbellies, and how they grasp us with colossal momentum and reshape us.
“Attis’ Blade” submerges us back into the mire, an instrumental three minutes leading off the track to pull us back into the reality of pain. Things quickly descend further into a frenzy, followed by a moment of brief calm before bursting once again into convulsions, frenetic shrieking guitar solos like needles in a wall of noise. Our hero/heroine of the album gathers themselves for an assault to close the song, but just as they gather steam the end arrives, leaving a sense of something unfinished.
A crunching bass line runs throughout the bulk of “Arcing Silver”, a startling rock’n’roll composure. This stability doesn’t last however, as the beast of human frustration and disappointment rears its head again, expressed as aimless wandering in an improvisational, sparse electric chaos seven minutes in. A sense of loss and scattered memories then develops a new confidence in the body blows of the song’s climax. Overall, “Arcing Silver” stands as the most straight-ahead number on the album, though Sumac still makes sure to express their inner turmoil.
Closing track “Ecstasy of Unbecoming” is, in contrast to its predecessor, the heaviest dose of avant-garde composition. These moments are hinted at throughout the rest of the record, but become the basis for this final piece. While in the other three songs, an enraged stability is victimized by love’s carnage, on “Ecstasy of Unbecoming” the fever dream is the starting point before being transformed into reality. It is a song that seems to be in the process of rediscovering how to form itself.
Love in Shadow is a score for our personal and interpersonal breakdowns, positioning them in the fuller context of our baffling, at times hideous, often maddening, and alluringly beautiful lives, whether within ourselves or between us and the objects of our affection.
In a less roundabout description, Love in Shadow is a towering statement in the mode of experimental black and doom metal, pulling us along its threads and keeping us engaged for each coming moment. The northwest trio blend themselves seamlessly, combining elements of relentless heavy metal with improv noise and poetic awareness.
review by Andy Resto
Love in Shadow comes out on September 21st via Thrill Jockey