Sunken – Livslede

With this follow-up to their 2017 debut, Departure, the five-piece Danish outfit of Sunken expand their style while retaining their original focus. Their black metal musical base finds growth through their tendency towards exploratory song-writing, though they maintain enough continuity to avoid coming off as a blackened jam band.

As with the first album, Livslede uses the structure of a quick intro track, followed by four lengthy tunes. Here, that opening track is “Forlist”, a minute-and-a-half piece of piano and ambient melancholy, sketching out a sparse melody and providing a bit of calm harmonizing as a prelude to the ensuing storm. It’s a clever piece of composition, allowing the band to rev up significantly over the course of the following songs, while also providing fans with a memorable start each time they play the album.

Ensomhed”, the twelve-minute successor, continues the textures of the intro, while introducing additional elements, most notably the rising percussion. Mixed low for much of the track, the drums provide a subdued aspect of rage against the near new-age-ish gloss, and as they rise, they bring the other traditional instruments of black metal with them, elevating the song’s original form into something majestically aggressive. It’s almost symphonic in grandiosity, while keeping things pared down to a number of elements that eschews clutter.

Foragt” comes next, bringing a rawer vibe to the production, and almost immediately launching into the speed and intensity which usually comes to mind when thinking of black metal. Employing the same sort of shifting arrangements as the preceding song, “Foragt” moves through an assortment of riffs and tempo sections without making them feel artificially connected. Jumping from downbeat emphasis to hammering attacks, tremolo to staccato, and any other high-speed MO pairing you’d care to name, the band comes off fantastically here. It’s probably the go-to track for convincing more traditional-minded black metallers to give this a shot, while retaining enough breather zones to not shake to pieces gentler listeners drawn in by “Ensomhed”.

With “Delirium”, the following track, things make a hard shift back into the synth ambience zone at the start. Down-mixed bass beats provide a percussive touch, and about two-thirds through, the guitar returns, with a keening stridency to counter-point the mellow foundation. Not long after that, the drums join back in, kept low in the mix, but bashing away ferociously until the close. “Dødslængsel” brings the black metal back in force for the finale, touching on some of the same tragic tones from the start, but mixing them in with the frenzied pace to impressive effect.

All in all, it’s a spectacular album, with the band consistently aiming high and succeeding. Though the emotional ride does feel a little melodramatic at moments, the skills of the musicians ensure that it doesn’t go into over-indulgent fluff. And as expansive and mutable as the songs are, with each of the non-intro ones running over eight minutes, they also maintain a sense of firm intent, helpfully grounding the most ethereal stretches. If this is where the band is at with just their second album, then I’m truly excited to see where they go from here.