Just like the sprawling, desolate landscape that graces its cover, Black Snow Desert‘s bleak drone metal soundscapes span for unfathomable miles. Black Snow Desert is the newest output from Ukrainian doom metal duo Nonsun, and follows two well-received EPs titled Good Old One and Sun Blind Me, released in 2012 and 2013 respectively. The record’s massive double disc, 85-minute excursion into transcendental atmospheric drone doom is a massive departure from the dismal doom metal tunes presented on their cataclysmic first releases. The band briefly played with droning atmospheres on the final two tracks of Sun Blind Me, and Black Snow Desert seems to be a great expansion of what took place there. The towering aggression has been dialed back, the vocals have been nixed completely and tone and ambience reign supreme over this gargantuan release.
Black Snow Desert is comprised of seven lengthy compositions on two discs. Each track on each section of the release (Disc 1: Tracks 1-4. Disc 2 Tracks 5-7) bleed seamlessly into the next, making each disc feel like its composed of one leviathan of a song. The album’s intimidating run-time and equally intimidating song lengths (the longest of which is about 16 minutes) is sure to scare some potential listeners away, especially if they are not the biggest fans of drone. Die-hard drone fan or not, listeners who allow themselves to be enveloped in Nonsun‘s hypnotic, and almost meditative soundscapes will find their time not wasted.
Black Snow Desert‘s sound lies somewhere between Sunn O))) claustrophobia and Earth expressive groove. A lot of these tracks combine cyclical, hazy-eyed western-tinged melodies with long stretches of crawling feedback, noise and hollow ambiance. “Peace of Decay, Joy of Collapse”, for example, starts off its nine-minute march with psychedelic desert rock guitar melodies that are interwoven with distorted grumbles and are driven by a steady percussive groove. Chugging, grimy doom metal stylings laced with piercing feedback eventually take a hold of the track and drive it to its lonesome, empty end. These fuzzed-out doom metal sections comprises the entirety of more aggressive cuts like “Ashes of Light, Demons of Justice” and “Heart’s Heavy Burden”. Other tracks like “Crystal Empty” is made up entirely of guitar-generated grumbling, drone soundscapes that sound like they were taken from Earth‘s Phase 3.
But probably the most enthralling piece on the record is opening number, “No Pity for the Beast, No Shelter for the Innocent”. This 15-minute behemoth begins with a lengthy section of throbbing, droning noise and oscillating sound effects. Wavering guitar chords eventually make their presence known and cascade over dark, humming sounds and sparse metallic melodies. These sections of aural melancholia rise and fall into nothingness for the first half of the track, then the song explodes into an ethereal post-rock extravaganza complimented by subtle elements of minimal doom and hauntingly beautiful atmospherics.
Nonsun took a pretty big risk creating an album of this scope and magnitude, and abandoning most of the vicious doom metal elements that made up their previous releases. But for the most part, it paid off. These explorative, dense and beautifully bleak compositions draw the listener in and take them on a transcendental journey that defies the usual conventions of drone and doom. The only real negative aspects of this record is that the more straightforward doom metal and drone music tracks pale in comparison to the album’s more experimental and multifaceted passages. It’s obvious that this duo put a lot of effort into constructing these flowing, shape-shifting opuses, so everything else is simply not as engaging. But all of that aside, Black Snow Desert is a huge step forward for this band. Some may balk at its tremendous length, but those who make time to explore this record will be pretty satisfied.
Release Date: January 6, 2016
Favorite Tracks: “No Pity for the Beast, No Shelter for the Innocent”, “Peace of Decay, Joy of Collapse” and “Observing the Absurd”
For Fans Of: Sunn O))), Nadja and Earth