There was a moment in the early to mid-noughties, where post-metal (or whatever you choose to call it) grabbed the attention of a huge number of fans of heavy music. It felt new, it felt heavier than anything that had come before, yet it retained a level of sophistication and intelligence which merited multiple listens and proper absorption of the lyrical themes. For me personally, this swell of post-metal peaked with Cult of Luna’s Salvation in 2004. Everything about that record, including the subtlety of the packaging, absolutely hit the bullseye for me (and many others).
As with so many musical movements (all suffer the same fate to some degree), following artistic peaks we then go through a terrible period of bandwagon-jumping, over-exposure, and blatant rip-offs of what had come before. For every Neurosis and Isis who were still releasing essential stuff, there was a dozen soundalikes which not only weren’t worthy of our time and money, but also diluted the impact of the aforementioned leaders of the genre. So, what me and many more like me then did, was stop listening to the genre, and fill our time with something less taxing, like The Great British Bake-Off or something equally vacuous.
And then there was Copenhagen’s LLNN…who return to this neglected backroom of the musical mansion referring to themselves as ‘sci-fi sludge’, and who am I to argue with this description?! This four-piece comprises of drums, bass, guitar and synth, so the presence of an identified ‘synth player’ – as opposed to those very many bands that have the odd pre-recorded electronic instrument which they introduce via the press of a foot-pedal – is a strong indication of just how densely layered LLNN’s music is. The synth element isn’t mere garnish – it isn’t just an odd droning chord here and there to support a guitar riff – the electronic element is the core of the sound.
Unmaker is LLNN’s third full-length release, and I must admit, to my detriment, that this is the first time I’ve taken the time to listen to them. More fool me. From the very first crushing blow of Imperial, the weight of what is to follow is totally clear. Desecrator adds even more heft. This is an absolutely crushing track, which quite frankly left me wondering where else the album could possibly go in terms of outright heaviness.
Then out of the blue, third track Obsidian makes me want to play Quake – and that can only ever be a good thing! The intro is really similar in tone to Trent Reznor’s score to that classic game, and the remainder of the song is a real standout. On an album of gargantuan riffs, this one is goliath. This video game link isn’t a coincidence either. Drummer Rasmus G. Sejersen says on the Pelagic Records website, ‘As huge fans of classic sci-fi scores and video games we’re fascinated by how cinematic sound design can evoke certain emotions and let our imagination unfold into abstract storytelling’.
Vakuum starts with a distant drone, and then slowly builds with industrial noise which breaks out into a brief siren song. This is really top-notch stuff; the sort of talent which would benefit any sci-fi or horror film. On the album it serves as an interlude, a brief respite from the hammering riffs, but it’s so much more than that. It’s this attention to detail and commitment to making every element as forceful as it can possibly be, has resulted in LLNN producing an album this strong.
Unmaker will continue to kick the living shit out of you, just to remind you that you’re still alive….
Interloper introduces some almost clean guitar tones for the first time, and also brings an airiness that has previously been missing from the density of what has gone by. This is a temporary reprieve as Division is arguably the heaviest and most densely orchestrated track on the album. I should mention at this point that the part-time audiophile in me often finds such huge-sounding records problematic. There’s a tendency for any subtlety to be lost in the mix, particularly if the album is compressed to hell. Thankfully Unmaker does not fall into this trap. Even at a fairly high volume the mix reveals small elements each time you listen. Your neighbours will still hate you of course.
Tethers gives the vocals of Christian Bonnesen a chance to really shine. Is he doing anything revolutionary? No. But his pained screams are so authentic that this really doesn’t matter. His performance throughout is great – there isn’t much variation, but when everything else that’s going on around him is so challenging, I don’t think this is a problem at all.
Resurrection closes the album in the only humane way possible – it gently reintroduces us into the real world with an ethereal soundscape and a robotic half-human vocal. To have ended the album abruptly would have been the musical equivalent of interrupting someone’s hyper-sleep – and the sci-fi fans amongst us all know that this never goes well.
Pelagic Records say that Unmaker is ‘a stupefyingly unforgiving affair: abrasive and vile’. Normally I disagree with a label’s own description of a release if I think they’re overselling it, but in this case the opposite is true. Yes, Unmaker is at times oppressive and demanding, but it’s also intelligent, artistic and varied. It’s so much more than the quote above gives it credit for!
Unmaker could well be the soundtrack to the impending winter of discontent here in the UK. Despite its otherworldly tones, the album has a reality sewn through it which makes it thoroughly relatable. Whilst we’re all icy-cold through a lack of gas in our homes and starving because of a lack of courgettes in the supermarket, LLNN’s Unmaker will continue to kick the living shit out of you, just to remind you that you’re still alive.
Scribed by: David J McLaren