SULDUSK – Anthesis (Album Review)

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In cold blackness, a new flower blooms.

Sometimes innovation doesn’t necessarily take on the form of a new sub-genre being born or something that seems unrecognizable to the existing musical paradigm, but rather involves breaking new grounds of emotional expression.

In the past decade, particularly in extreme metal circles, much of this has been accomplished via the coupling of black metal and post-rock, two styles that are not necessarily disparate but have nonetheless only been explored to a limited extent until fairly recently. Of particular note in popular circles has been the unique blend of this hybrid with a folksy vibe and a dueling combination of harsh and angelic vocals spearheaded by Danish/American solo artist Myrkur.

However, towards the end of the 2010s, she would find a formidable competitor in Australian solo artist Emily Highfield’s project Suldusk, which spawned an auspiciously similar albeit more heavily post-rock-informed 2019 debut album dubbed “Lunar Falls.” Roughly five years to the day, this new force from Down Under finds itself among the ranks of Napalm Records as a fully codified band and a more developed and stylistic distinct sophomore LP dubbed “Anthesis” in tow.

The album’s name, per the band, means to bloom and functions as an elaborate and highly dynamic exploration of grief and acceptance, often shifting styles when one emotion gives way to the other. In contrast to the aforementioned Danish artist sporting a similar stylistic niche, how this opus unfolds is more formally progressive, often mixing in a greater variety of external influences and presenting them in a more expressionistic fashion. Ambience and surrealism also play a more prominent role, as can be gleaned right from the album’s opening prelude entry “Astraeus”, which progresses from a harrowing ensemble of exhales into a static wave of droning keyboards and a mystic, eastern-tinged vocal melody draped on top like an eastern European answer to Enya.

“Anthesis” Album Artwork

Though this exposition is itself a mostly uniform expression of somber serenity, it proves the perfect setup for the blackened storm of metallic fury that immediately follows via “Verdalet”, a riveting display of melody and harsh emotional stress that finds band leader Emily Highfield brilliantly splitting her vocal performance between frosty shrieks and angelic croons as if she were two vocalists featured in a duet of extreme contrast.

As the album progresses, the deeper into the stylistic weeds it goes, striking up a peculiar balance of consonant tranquility and disjointed rage, with the former prevailing to a slight degree. The naturalistic vibes and general sonic beauty that prevail upon the lion’s share of “Crown Of Esper” stick almost exclusively to folk-driven acoustic balladry, with the only real contrast being occasional crescendos from the accompanying keyboards in a symphonic-like fashion.

On the other end of the spectrum, the spacey ambience that kicks off “Crystalline” leads into a crushing storm of black metal rage with a serene melody on top that proceeds to trade blows with more fleeting segments of acoustic respite, culminating in one of the more dynamic expressions of extreme atmospheric metal heard in recent years. A similar, albeit more asymmetrical and jarring assortment of softer and harsher moments typify that album’s title song “Anthesis”, arguably functioning as the de facto climax point of a highly nuanced and varied experience set to 46 minutes of music.

The mixture of balladry and metallic fervor takes on a more doom-like crawl on the woefully sad “Leven”, while the extended musical yin and yang that is this LP’s epic closer “A Luminous End” comes off as the most structurally progressive and technically intricate of the lot.

Objectively speaking, there are no real weak points in this 9-song cycle of deep emotional exploration that can be pointed to, leaving the only arguable flaw of this album’s highly elaborate character possibly present an accessibility problem for many mainline consumers of folk rock, post-rock, and black metal. Though not billed as a progressive rock project, Suldusk embodies the same basic approach and character of one, and the result is a musical experience that is a lot to take in.

One could even argue that Highfield and company dispelled just about every possible notion that this project was a mere homage to Myrkur’s mid-2010s music exploits in the most extreme manner possible, presenting a take on the black/folk sound that is less in line with the Scandinavian roots of the sub-genre’s 90s resurgence and more so with the broader worldwide character that has come to embody the subsequent 3rd wave.

It’s definitely an album that challenges the listener to explore what it has to offer intently, and a highly unique offering to the quickly expanding pool of metallic intrigue to grace 2024.

Released By: Napalm Records
Release Date: March 1st, 2024
Genre: Dark Folk / Blackgaze

Musicians:

  • Emily Highfield / Vocals, Guitars
  • Shane Mulholland / Vocals Guitars
  • Daniel Green / Bass
  • Josh Taylor / Guitars
  • Hayley Anderson / Violin
  • Frankie Demuru / Drums

Anthesis Track-List:

  1. Astraeus
  2. Verdalet
  3. Crowns Of Esper
  4. Crystalline
  5. Sphaera
  6. Anthesis
  7. Mythical Creatures
  8. Leven
  9. A Luminous End (Featuring Raphael Weinroth-Browne)

Pre-order “Anthesis” HERE

8.4 Great

One woman folk/blackgaze project turned fully-fledged band Suldusk delves even further into the intricate mixture of melancholy and rage that typified its 2019 predecessor and debut album “Lunar Falls,” surpassing it at nearly every point

  • Songwriting 8.5
  • Musicianship 8.5
  • Originality 8
  • Production 8.5
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