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Sun of the Blind > Skullreader > Reviews
Sun of the Blind - Skullreader

Lavish and layered but loses energy and liveliness - 75%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, March 14th, 2010

The man behind Sun of the Blind, Zhaaral, is a member of the mighty Darkspace trio, so for those MA readers who found that particular band rather forbidding and abstract, this SotB project might be a more accessible and melodic substitute for that act. It's true that aspects of SotB's music may resemble Darkspace and another linked project, Paysage d'Hiver, especially in the way keyboard tones are used to create a certain atmosphere in parts, but SotB is very much its own boss with a purpose and determination to spare. This is demonstrated all the way through in "Skullreader": the sound is much warmer, inviting and hynotic than it is with Darkspace, the music more structured and grandiose, and it all sounds as if Zhaaral gave it everything he had almost to the point of killing himself through exhaustion and sacrifice. In the process though the black metal element does shrink almost to little more than croaking vocals crying out against a barrage of synthesiser and guitar, and only Zhaaral's skill as an all-runder keeps the album together as it travels all the way to the end.

"Cursed Universe" leads the way energetically with a positive determination: the drumming is varied and the various instruments and effects surge forward in a lively manner. "Lord of Mind" is a more introverted beast, dark in mood, solemn yet majestic and like its forerunner quite varied in melody and pace. It's monumental as well, the music epic and dramatic, the playing whether of raw guitar riffs and melodies or of cold keyboard tones seeming more outstanding than it actually may be. There are vocals but they tend to be a minor element in the whole edifice. As the album progresses, some of the early energy is lost and the music settles down to mid-tempo which is maintained for the rest of the album. It's as if SotB quickly forget that this is basically a black metal album, the black metal becoming merely the earthbound escape hatch from which the music quickly heads off into the realms of interstellar prog-rock opera soundtracks. Only the BM vocals that appear on the songs - and sometimes just for the first few minutes of a long track - provide a link to black metal and even then they are in danger of being swept away or buried under layers of guitar, synthesiser and electronic effects.

We keep going with "Ornaments" which is a lavish piece with lots of silvery synth lines, plodding percussion and plenty of background ambient effects including some steely industrial grinding noises but the energy and zest the album started with are distinctly flagging. The effort put into building up these songs with layer upon layer of fuzz and melody into epic works is stretching our man Zhaaral a lot. I'm hoping outro track "Vanitas" might reclaim some of the early liveliness that made this album so promising but unfortunately this doesn't happen. Frosty synthesiser structures loom early on in the track, followed by crunchy guitar riffs and melodies and more mid-paced uninspired drumming, all to collapse into a mysterious murky and dank atmosphere. Well, we did plunge back to Earth it seems but not quite where I hoped.

"Skullreader" might have worked better if there'd been more black metal prominent in the mix throughout the album at the expense of some of the keyboard-generated music. True, the black metal rhythms are present and they are rough and buzzy but there is also a lot of smooth string and ivory work that smother them over. Much of the keyboard work tends to sound the same - it's either cold, pure, round winter tones or wavy bland synth oozings that sound very 1970's - so it often seems less inspired than it should be or Zhaaral had intended, and the album steers dangerously close to the territory of the rotating silver reflecting mirror ball: the one thing that used to inspire panic and terror into the hearts of metal-minded maniacs before they realised they could turn programmed rhythm structures to their own advantage. As it is, the mixed BM / Euro-disco music of (V.E.G.A.) springs to mind and there are parts where, yes, there are similarities between SotB and that band though (V.E.G.A.) is harder-edged due to that act's preoccupation with the effects of drug abuse. The pace doesn't change much after the first couple of tracks so there are moments where I wonder whether the music is going too quickly in parts where it should be slow, mysterious and sinister, and going too slowly in parts where aggression and outright fury are called for. At least Zhaaral's talent as a musician and his vision and belief in this project keep the music focussed on the straight and narrow so that though it verges on self-indulgence, it never gets too absorbed in its own grandeur and ends up in a black hole. Or maybe it does end up in a black hole but in a cosmic one.

Black metal fusions with space ambient prog and post-rock can be great music if musicians can remember to keep as much actual black metal, not just the singing style, upfront in the mix as they can afford so for listeners at least the whole work sounds balanced between the two styles. I get the feeling that at times Zhaaral might have got carried away with the soaring lead guitar breaks and skyward synthesiser, and neglected the BM rhythms. It probably wouldn't hurt if he could adopt something of Darkspace's noise-blasting approach with the flailing mechanical percussion as a counterpoint to the melodic bombast. The old Bible story about building your house on a secure foundation so that whatever kind of structure, no matter how big, extravagant or complex, you create won't topple over instead of building that house on sand comes to mind.

One For The Star Gazer. - 80%

Perplexed_Sjel, August 26th, 2009

I’ve said before that ambient black metal is perhaps one of the least perfected sub-genres. Though the depressive side takes the brunt of the barrage of abuse, this side is whitewashed over because it isn’t in the foreground of the mind of your average black metal listener. Ambient is a little more obscure and hidden from the eye of the public. Those who attempt this fragile style attempt it with their own fate in their hands. It is easy to succumb to the pressure of such a sub-genre and crumble in the limelight for everyone to see because of the intricate passages that are the make-up of this star gazing, astral loving, cosmic style. In order to be a success, one has to innovatively manoeuvre between the light of ambient and the dark of black metal with a balance in mind. Too much of one thing is not a characteristic that will generate positive reviews. Take fellow Swiss band Totgeburt, for example. T relies too heavily on a dull ambient sound to prove his worth within the scene and in doing so, the black metal elements are sacrificed like a lamb to the slaughter. Given T’s relative inexperience within the music industry, perhaps he can be forgiven for producing a substandard piece of music that touched upon too many mediocre soundscapes, rather than just plain bad. His musical vision was too raw, whilst being well produced, to survive these early stages of his career. There is room for improvement but, hopefully, he can live up to the initial high expectations and deliver.

Sun of the Blind, seemingly a side-project, first and foremost, of Darkspace guitarist and vocalist Zhaaral, should be no stranger to high expectations. Considering the open appreciation of Darkspace, I’m sure most people expect the musicians’ side-projects to turn to gold, no matter what genre, or sub-genre they turn their hands at. Paysage D’Hiver is a good example of this. Being recognised as one of the most pivotal ambient black metal bands around at the moment, Zhaaral has a huge job on his hands filling the minds of the listeners with cosmic tales of beauty through anguish given the enormous and inadvertent pressure mounted on his shoulders by the presence of Paysage D’Hiver alongside his own project. The two project too very different sounds. The reader should not approach this record expecting to hear something in the vein of Paysage D’Hiver. However, to expect something a little closer to Darkspace would not be entirely unthinkable. Having said that, Zhaaral definitely has set up stall within the cleaner variation of the sound. The production job on ‘Skullreader’ is fantastic. For me, it harbours a perfectly balanced sound between airy and light - dark and heavy. The base of the work is very much inspired by acts like a doomier Katatonia, particularly during their first two records.

The heavier sound seems to take a small dose of Darkspace inspired guitars and mesmerising ambiance and mesh the two together in a watered down style that isn’t as potentially headache inducing. The Darkspace style requires a certain frame of mind for me to be able to enjoy it. I need to have a clear mind, be free from pain and in the mood to allow the almost inaccessible melodies drive through the heavy snow and wind depicted in the stormy production that powers on by through distortion. Sun of the Blind immediately establish the entrancing sound as more accessible than Darkspace. For me, these two bands are the epitome of the positive sound this sub-genre can produce. However, they’re on different sides of the ambient spectrum. Darkspace, as stated, relies more on hypnotic dirges through distortion and powerfully intermingled melodies that seep gradually through the cracks in the dissonant soundscapes over a prolonged period of time - hence why the songs are as lengthy as they are. Sun of the Blind, on the other hand, are cleaner, whilst maintaining that powerful hypnotic sound that pulls the soul from the body and drags it across the galaxy in search of cosmic adventures.

Though the methods of both bands might be similar - intertwining guitars and keyboards - the resulting sounds are as contrasting as they could be with Sun of the Blind, supposedly, leaning towards a gothic/rock sound. The latter band also includes a touch of variation, whilst Darkspace maintains a similar façade throughout the proceedings, as songs like ‘Ornaments’ indicates with its sombre keyboard passages at a much slower tempo than Darkspace ever dare to venture into. Whilst one relies of fury to inspire the astral images, the other relies on a decadent walking pace to gradually build the story like some long winded fantasy novel based in the vast realms of space with the odd meteor shower of black metal crossed with the familiar post-rock/shoegazing fuzz in between. Zhaaral is a talented musician, controlling most of the multi-faceted portrayal. He has a visionary mind and, hopefully, will continue to contribute to the ambient scene with this band as they are one of the few contenders to the throne in a sea of pretenders.

An Extension of the Main Project - 85%

CyclicChaos8, July 13th, 2009

Being a rabid Darkspace fan, once I heard about side-project Sun of the Blind by Darkspace guitarist/vocalist Zhaaral, I immediately ordered a copy of Skullreader. I didn't know quite what to expect; at the time I had absolutely no other knowledge of Sun of the Blind aside from lone member Zhaaral's affiliation, but figured based on his main band's works the amount of risk was low. Upon first listen, I was overjoyed to find that I was correct.

Skullreader embodies the most common trait of a side-project: a sound similar to that of the respective main project. But simply comparing Sun of the Blind's material with Darkspace's does not do justice to the magnificence of Zhaaral's vision, nor to Darkspace's still-unique formula for ambient black metal. What we have here, essentially, is a progressive-tinged Darkspace with a smattering of various influences culled from outside the "normal" black metal boundary. Sun of the Blind masterfully layer fuzzed-out death/black riffs, ever-present mysterious and mournful lead guitar lines (the greatest resemblance to Darkspace), and spacial blanketed keyboard synth, on top of mid-paced black metal drumming and scathing vocal screams. Sun of the Blind's greatest success lies in the fact that, while using the Darkspace template for Skullreader, said foundation is built upon by scant female singing ("Lord of Mind"), short electronic sequences ("Fire and Thirst"), and fantastic forays into female vocal chanting (likely keyboard-induced) adjoining with the main sound (the awesome "Vanitas"). There is even several minutes of dirgy death/doom similar to Swallow the Sun or Ablaze in Hatred in fourth track "Ornaments," a personal favorite.

The most affecting of what Sun of the Blind brings, however, is atmosphere. Zhaaral's main outfit, Darkspace, can pull off an identical mastery of this, along with other obscure acts such as Doom:Vs and Impavida, and on Skullreader Zhaaral's skills couldn't be better portrayed. The multitude of layers of guitar, intertwined with eerie synth and occasional vocals, both stifles and impresses the listener, inciting additional listens to uncover deeper-buried sound and relevance. Song lengths ranging from seven to over ten minutes are sensible, and very pleasing given the impact of what Sun of the Blind are trying to accomplish.

Quite simply, Skullreader is an album reminiscent of vintage Darkspace, plus progressive influences, less such a horrifying din, but frightful and inspiring nonetheless. Skullreader should be secondary to Darkspace fans as treasured material, and should be at the least given a listen by all fans of related ambient black metal who seek a vision into the window that is Darkspace.

Excellent spacey black metal. - 90%

caspian, June 19th, 2009

Generally, the whole Burzum + Katatonia type of Black Metal has worn pretty thin; getting a few super distorted chords and adding some dissonant arpeggios other the top has been done to death of late. Sun of the Blind isn't really helping with this glut of similar stuff but it's better than most, and somewhat unique; there's a bunch of Darkspace type riffs and electronics in here (hardly surprising, considering Zhaaral plays in that band) and that straight ahead martial type feel added in to the usual Burztonia sound. In short, this is some really good stuff and the best mid paced black metal I've heard for a while.

I don't really want to call this "shoegazey", because there's no My Bloody Valentine influence or anything, but there is some sort of truth to that label; the songs here are really, really layered and fuzzed out. Man, heaps of layers; clean, somewhat seasick arpeggios often rising above the churning morass and echoing out, tons of spacey leads with a strong psychedelic influence, samples, pristine and cold synths, e-bowed guitars all hovering above a steady, churning rhythmic backbone of some Darkspace and Filosofem loving riffs and an unobtrusive rhythm section. "Vanitas" definitely justifies Darkspace comparison, with its huge, martial death-trudge riff, whereas the despairing and grandiose "Ornaments" sounds a surprising amount like M83, particularly with the fuzzy ebowed guitar lines floating through the mix. It's all helped by some rather nice production values- layers kept in check nicely, so the steady, churning hypnosis of the album doesn't become all mudded up and opaque.

Granted, if you're not terribly keen on the idea of fuzzy, spacey black metal then there's not a great deal to recommend here- this isn't terribly restrained in its ambition to out space Darkspace and out fuzz Burzum, but fuzzy stuff gives me a boner and this is no exception. It's just really grandiose and huge; the sound to some rather unsettling space opera, and it's just done really well, with enough attention to composition and arranging to keep the interest level high through the fairly long songs- the unexpected and subtle use of female vocals in “Lord of Mind” being a great example. The dude isn't afraid to get a bit pretty and almost funeral doom-y at points ("Ornaments", again) but these moments are rare; Zhaaral's got no ambitions to be a fuzzier Alcest. "Cursed Universe" is probably the heaviest and least friendly here, as a bunch of lurching, uneasy riffs and clean parts keep you feeling vaguely woozy and seasick throughout the whole thing. It's a great track, for sure.

I wouldn't say this is my favourite album of all time but I can certainly see it getting a lot of rotation; it's really well executed and while there could be a bit more variation tempo wise it's still a great record. Highly recommend for fans of Darkspace, Katatonia and Burzum.