by Karl Hodge
Leeds based Sunwølf are playing with smoke and mirrors on their stunning 3rd outing. The portentous name “Beholden to Nothing and No One“, the track titles, artwork and iconography trick you into thinking they’ve crossed to the dark side, drinking deep from Beelzebub’s stinking trough. And, after the ethereal and cavernous opening of In The Darkened River I Found The Silence Loom, we’re soon wandering off through down-tuned, slow-metal territory.
The Widow’s Oil sets the tone, with visceral Sabbath riffing that continues through the next two tunes, unleashing the kind of funeral-doom growling you might expect from Mournful Congregation or Neurosis.
If you were holding the LP cover, you might flip it back over at that point. The reflective, gentler Sunwølf showcased in their first two releases Midnight Moon and Beyond the Sun has got itself some tattoos and piercings.
It’s a clever sequencing ruse to bundle this double set’s most satanic, blackened gaggle of songs together and so early, because a full listen through all fourteen cuts reveals a virtuoso collection of splintered diversity. Sunwølf explore textures and shatter sub-genre effortlessly, intelligently and with miraculous cohesion. And this, it so happens, makes Beholden the perfect record to play to any feckless noob who reckons all post-rock sounds the same.
Although the moods change, they do so glacially, revealing a meticulously structured symphony that touches on stoner-doom and sludge via ambient noodling and even a bit of lounge jazz; harrowing at the beginning of the set, transcendental at the end. So, again, thanks for loading the heaviest stuff up front, Sunwølf, because it would have been a total bummer to drop mushrooms and have the screamo bits of The Wake of the Leviathan totally harsh your mellow just as you were coming up.
For us, the most rewarding section is the second half of the first disc. And, call us squares, but the complex, fully realised trio of Totem, title track Beholden to Nothing and No One and disc-closer Heathens Rest are the most iconically post-rock cuts of the collection, like emerging into sunlight after a fitful night of fever dreams.
The ascendance to heaven continues through disc two. We rise like angels into the blue through the broken echo chamber of Come O Spirit, Dwell Among Us and into the gentle come down of Ithaca, where muted trumpet and Robbie Krieger arpeggios wrap around us like anthropomorphic clouds.
In Symptoms of Dearth that same trumpet’s given freer rein and couples with sax to draw gentle textures that you could not imagine sharing the same sound space as the disc one slow-mo grind of Vultures Crown. It’s testament to the narrative we’ve had written for us that it all makes perfect sense by this point.
As though to explicitly underline that “Beholden to Nothing…” is a pilgrim’s progress of sorts, the set resolves around a kind of hymn, the choral hallelujah of Lotus Island, which begins with chanting monastic voices and ends with echoes of the fuzztone Hades we’ve only recently escaped.
The final segue to a simple piano figure and strings in Of Darknesse is sweetened by the icicle voice of guest singer Tiffany Ström, bringing us full circle, back to the fragile emotion of opening track In the Darkened River… We could barely resist starting over from disc one.
In totality, this is an assured, mature collection of independently published and created music; testimony to the fact that you can and, damn it, you should get off your backside and do it yourself in this day and age. Pushing boundaries, making the beautiful and complicated noise you want to make, beholden to nothing and no one.
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Beholden to Nothing and No One is available for pre-order now and out on the 30th of June