As upbeat as its name suggests, Sunless is a brooding, dark release from PSOTY – invigorating and intimidating in equal measure, it cures the itch for those seeking a poignant post-rock record laced with a sense of impending threat.
PSOTY (formerly Pet Slimmers of the Year) have returned with their first release in over five years. Sunless is their second full-length, releasing on Candelight Records as per 2014’s Fragments of Uniforms. Having formed in Cambridgeshire back in 2008, the UK act have thoroughly earned their recognition and following over the past decade, with high praise for their craft coming from among the largest names in metal’s journalistic community (Terrorizer, Metal Hammer, and Kerrang! included). With Sunless, PSOTY strive to continue the evolution from their post-metal roots; it’s a record of equal weight, but increased heaviness and reflection.
The band describes Sunless as:
‘a much more driven record. It’s more direct and aggressive than our previous work. We’re excited for people to hear it. It’s exactly where we want to be musically.’
Comforting to know, and it shows in the album’s performances. Perfectly foreboding, the opening notes of lead single “Oil Blood” tease a moodiness that permeates the entirety of Sunless, but I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s a confident start that carries fragments of Tesseract‘s “King” and the power of Oh Hiroshima, managing to ‘set the tone for the entire album and push us forward in the direction we wanted to go with our sound’, as stated by the quartet themselves.
While it’s true that there are instances of elevating tone to be found on Sunless, these really are momentary. Instrumental “The Yawning Void” uses its seven-minute runtime to build expectation with suspenseful delayed guitar and militaristic drums. Once the chugging of the rhythm guitar invades, it devolves in a lambent fury, as if promising a wrath that’s yet to come. And oh boy, come it does. “Watcher of the Abyss” sees vocal duties return fluidly to accompany the misanthropic musicality for a ten-minute track. While a song of such uncommon length – though not so much in the post-rock ring – might cost one the attention of the listener, PSOTY carve it out exceptionally. Crafted in a way that each component rises and falls at intervals throughout, it never slips into tedium.
“Acheron” and “Charon”, both shorter snippets, form intriguing interludes. Layer upon layer of echo and reverb are employed in celestial, drum- and bassless washes of guitar, the latter track proving more delicate than its counterpart in nature. The pristine clarity of “Charon” transitions into a sublimely tranquil a capella start on “King of Ephyra”; a peace which is short-lived, and welcomingly so. The remainder of the song ushers in the same malaise as Sunless’s other tracks, utilising beautiful harmonies in the vocals that are scattered throughout the album to great effect.
Lyrically and thematically, there’s a suitable marrying of the musical tone. We linger on vocal lines that soar sombrely (which you can hear for yourself in the included tracks of this review), frequently telling of hardship and emotional turmoil. It’s all effectively delivered, unpretentious, and minimally invasive of the instrumentation on Sunless. Lengthy wordless passages are punctuated by the impressive lyrical work, but it’s refreshing to listen to an album where the vocals feel neither obtrusive nor lacking – they complement wherever present without detracting from the music.
Sunless also possesses the textural layering that is somewhat standard post-rock fare, but used masterfully. Delay and reverb work overtime on ethereal melodies; basslines wander one moment, rigidly striking out the next; drums form the sturdy foundation of its intensifying soundscape, in conjunction with the crushing tone of the rhythm guitar. All the components merge, dancing intricately until closer “Obscura” bids Sunless take its final, troubled breath.
Were this to ever be used as the score for a film or television show, Sunless guarantees that you would find yourself cocooned in a permanent state of unrest. Each track succeeds greatly on its own, but Sunless is by far best digested as a whole; such is PSOTY‘s craftsmanship of the album. Every possible uplifting opportunity stretches out only into further despair. Yet such melancholy helps provides an enriching listen of striking depth and complexity – a record of unease and remoteness that, by contrast, many will likely embrace warmly with great favour. Pre-order it here ahead of its release on September 13.