ALBUM REVIEW: Sunrot – ‘The Unfailing Rope’

Artwork for Sunrot’s ‘The Unfailing Rope’ - a statue of the Virgin Mary with the face blotted out

Hearing about the strife from making records only makes the final release all the more powerful. That’s certainly the case for Sunrot, whose third attempt to complete The Unfailing Rope sees a reflection of its creative process: grasping for the light situated atop a vast chasm.

Sunrot, the aptly self-proclaimed “compulsive post noise power sludge” outfit comprising local musicians in their New Jersey homeland, is a product of its scene nurturing space The Meatlocker. Blood-curling static, industrial levels of feedback, chordal chunks and crust come courtesy of noise maestro and ringleader Lex Santiago; all nuts and bolts that see some pathetic fallacy throughout opening dirge Descent, an orchestral splendour piece manipulated through the group’s “board full of crap” to achieve the dreaded effect. But the hidden pieces of beauty pop up throughout, a band used to juggling weighty topics of suicide awareness and prevention, trauma and abuse, racism, and homophobia and transphobia with the projection that better things will always prevail.

It follows from 2022’s 21%, a metaphorical retelling of the fate of Icarus centred on depression and psychosis, medical attention that sadly hospitalised Santiago during the record’s first two recording sessions. There’s admiration in the strength to convey this difficult process, even finding some solace in light-heartedness; 21%’s release on Valentine’s Day signalled the band’s image as “a bunch of goofballs with big hearts”. Likewise, even amongst their usual dirge that follows the cleaner uplifting starter to The One You Feed Pt. 2, there’s a positive tone to the instrumentals that shines brightest, or the ethereal lungs of Silver Godling’s Emily McWilliams on Gutter, which also features Brian Funck of legendary doompeddlers Thou.

Sunrot’s wall of sound inspirations are laid on nice and thick. The swelling feedback to start Trepanation is ritualistic SunnO))) worship, or brings to mind the hazy, befuddled mindsets of Dorset’s beloved Electric Wizard. Then again, Santiago’s echoey rasp—seemingly recorded in an empty warehouse, or in front of a black hole—provides the urgency necessary to rub against hulking chordal rings. There’s also interspersed samples (something about a drillbit?) and stomping grooves. Lengthy centrepiece Tower Of Silence throws you off guard with unfurling pleasantry. It’s no wonder the distant crashing of impending noise is a death knell for the chuggery to begin while you ride shotgun for the wild road ahead.

There’s other moments of the otherworldly. The Cull may only last 47 seconds, but its manipulated human voice sample reduced to a monster’s roar and static is like the listener’s own version of Agent Cooper’s interdimensional travel in Twin Peaks: The Return. Duly, one finds themselves brought back to Sunrot’s mortal world with Patricide; also featuring electronic soundscape designer Blake Harrison of legendary Pig Destroyer, which acts as a vehicle to give an empowered voice to trauma sufferers. By closing out with a reading from James Balwin on Love—a key figure during the civil rights and gay liberation movements—amongst struggle, it serves to underline how human spirit and connection can win.

Sunrot sometimes rides on drone autopilot, but the selective moments which occupy space with harsh guitars, or simplistic singular drum smashes, make for standout moments that crush like a truck. The lyrical message may be tough going, but get accurately conveyed through an accompaniment of despairing gloom, frantic electronics, and moments of unfurling clarity. The resulting package is a rewarding document that ultimately proves perseverance and healing is possible in the toughest of times, on top of being a champion release in doomy circles.

For fans of: SunnO))), Primitive Man, The Body

‘The Unfailing Rope’ by Sunrot is released on 7th April on Prosthetic Records.

Words by Elliot Burr

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