Review: Sunrot ‘The Unfailing Rope’

New Jersey sludge/noise-rock four-piece Sunrot have been around for roughly a decade now, spitting out a number of EPs and splits. Their full-length debut came in the form of 2017s Sunnata, a crackling and emotionally charged eleven-track journey through the darkened deaths of several sub-genres that include sludge, black metal and gothic inflictions that express the pain of failed relationships, internal struggles and the crumbling of society.

Sunrot 'The Unfailing Rope' Artwork
Sunrot ‘The Unfailing Rope’ Artwork

Their sophomore release marks the debut for Prosthetic Records and has been described as feeling like a cursed project. Awash with difficulties, The Unfailing Rope required recording a total of three times before the band could deliver the final article that they hope will propel their brand of unsettling noise to the world.

Sunrot’s sound has often been augmented by the addition of samples, noise and experimentalism to set them apart from their peers and almost unsurprisingly the opening track Descent is a short intro that combines feedback, distorting fairground organ music and an ominous build that sees a spoken word quote from the Never Ending Story about The Nothing, which talks of ‘a despair destroying this world’.

The first track proper Trepanation kicks in with almost stoner-level fuzz, a slow creeping guitar and a whine of reverb lays the foundations for the deep plodding rumbling and Lex Santiago’s rasping screams. When the band finally get into the meat of the matter, it is a combative churn. Buried under the cacophony are blues-rich walls of sound; robust and catchy at times, any attempt at a feel-good factor is quickly diminished by the EyeHateGod-like strangled howls. Grooves emerge only to have the momentum halted by doom-level slow riffs.

Once again, they introduce samples and additional vocals courtesy of producer Scot Moriarty, the middle of the track features an unsettling account of the titular procedure before the band utilises drone-style melodies and a tumultuous smash to usher in the close littered with electronics and roars.

The urgent, hardcore riffing of Gutter has a punk heritage that runs through its chaotic tumble. The main body of the third entry has an air of DRI jamming with Will Haven, turning up the Sacramento band’s tempo by a half and full of angular jarring moments with an industrial air, topped by vocals that sound absolutely unhinged.

Dissolving into sickening string bends, the middle section has a looser jam vibe before they crank the tension with a blackened grind fury to offset the marching stomp complete with blast beats, finishing with haunting female vocals from Emily McWilliams and an appearance from Bryan Funck of Thou.

The One You Feed Pt. 2 calls back to one of the high points of their debut album, where Pt. 1 was an emotional outpour, here the downbeat, tender-picked guitar produces a smouldering track that features impassioned vocals that tug at the heartstring and offers hope in the bleak world that Sunrot are documenting. The powerful message of ‘Just keep holding on’ permeates through the darkness and history repeats as this is instantly a stand-out moment on their second album.

monster sludge-drenched riffs slide effortlessly into the gloom…

After this, the nothing interlude of The Cull, again featuring the tried and tested trope of returning to a sample, recalls Ministry’s Corrosion from their seminal Psalm 69 album before it vanishes.

Patricide, featuring additional noise from Pig Destroyer’s Blake Harrison, sounds pure evil on a level with the likes of Lord Mantis with its violent unsettling lurches and scorched lyrics that seem to tattoo themselves into your very soul. The call-and-response nature of the clashing orchestration with subtle double bass drumming from Alex Dobrowolski pushes the band further to the edge of sanity.

The longest track, and what rightfully should be the final entry, Tower Of Silence is an epic-length atmospheric build that brings in synths for a film score-style sense of drama before the harder edge creeps in through the moody, slow drumming whilst the guitars linger in the background that feels in stark contrast to the anguished howls.

Once the heavy elements get rolling, the pounding groove lumbers towards the second half of the act as monster sludge-drenched riffs slide effortlessly into the gloom. Given that this is the penultimate track, the faltering ending does seem to rob it of some of its power as it fades.

The concluding track, Love, is a sampled instrumentation, this time featuring the iconic speech by legendary and prophetic American author James Baldwin on the subject of the title. No less impactful a use of the rhetoric, having already concluded the album, this piece is almost unnecessary as a second ending or at best would have served better to have been swapped in order to let the band finish on their own voice.

The Unfailing Rope is an impressive attempt at scope. The dark lyrics and real-life influence behind them can make for grim reading at times, but Sunrot always offer a glimmer of hope to transform their violent art and sonic lead discourse into the wider nature of catharsis through struggle and the ever-hopeful yearning to hold on.

I am by no meaning faulting the attempt and the band brings impressive feats of savagery to channel that release with moments of brilliance that will undoubtedly see them take their platform to a higher level. It is just a shame that, for me, they seem to run out of steam just before the finish line and the album ends more on a whimper rather than the bang it deserved.

If you enjoy sludge rock that teeters on the edge of accessibility and grinding noise, delighting in the jarring juxtaposition of balance to scratch a feral itch and still be able to lose yourself in a mammoth-sized stomp, then on the strength of this, you should keep an eye on the New Jersey crew because when they do hit that home run, it’s going to be hella impressive.

Label: Prosthetic Records
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Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden