The ancient Anasazi peoples of New Mexico believed the Urraca Mesa to be a place of great evil; a bridge between this plane of existence and a much darker one. Even the term “urraca” is an omen in Native languages. It translates into “magpie”, the name of a small bird that would doom anyone whose name it called. To top everything off, the Mesa forms the shape of a skull when seen from above. Not surprisingly, the Anasazi tribe that settled on that mesa mysteriously vanished some 900 years ago, with some archaeological discoveries hinting that their end may have been a violent one.
The sudden demise of a people, other realms and ancient spirituality are prime themes for metal; themes that Sunless embrace on their new album, Urraca. The story of the Anasazi’s demise at the hands of demonic entities runs a thread throughout this Minneapolis trio’s 40-minute, stunning debut, and is narrated by the band’s brand of avant-leaning technical metal. Urraca is a complex, menacing and jarringly hypnotic record that could possibly be a portal between worlds.
Urraca‘s sound will immediately draw comparisons to avant-garde/technical death metal figureheads Gorguts, and it’s easy to see. The band certainly wear their influences on their sleeves with pride, but it would be naive for one to simply write off their atonal flourishes as those of yet another band worshiping at the altar of Obscura. Upon further inspection, it is revealed that the band approach this sound in a slightly different way.
In addition to being insanely intricate and discombobulating, Urraca is surprisingly bestial and psychedelic as well. This is made apparent very quickly with the opening one-two punch of “Wishes Fallen on Deafened Ears” and “Gathering at the Skull’s Eye”. The dizzying, angular riffs that twist into malformed shapes that one would expect from an album of this magnitude make a grand, simultaneously lurching and chaotic entrance on top of frantic, awe-inspiring drum work and labyrinthine bass lines. But soon the band throw in chugging, sprawling guitar work, primitive rhythms, and kaleidoscopic melodies and effects awash with ethereal soundscapes. These songs still remain highly technical, but consciously utilize elements that will bludgeon the listener, as well as trap them in a atmospheric haze.
This psychedelia-meets-full blown chaos approach carries over quite well in the album’s longer cuts, such as “Born of Clay” and “Disintegration of Man”. Here the band take their time building the songs from dismal, yet spell-binding riffs that parody melody, into swells of aberrated rhythms and twitching, churning guitar acrobatics. Atonal melodies and atmospheric sections will often bleed into chugging, leviathanic crawls, which in turn explode suddenly into flurries of off-kilter chaos. These songs take the listeners on unpredictable rides, as each section that follows next can not be foreseen.
In a way, Sunless‘ unique approach to Gorgutsian death metal fits the album’s storyline. The band’s utilization of both brutal simplicity and psychedelia is like being trapped in limbo between two universes, one primitive and one enlightened, with the dissonant madness representing the darker mid-realm. Urraca‘s interesting themes and enthralling, monstrous compositions make it one of the better death metal albums of the year so far. Fans of outre metal will not want to let this one sneak past them.
Release Date: February 24, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Gathering at the Skull’s Eye”, “Born of Clay”, “The Ancient Ones” and “Magpie”
For Fans Of: Gorguts, Deathspell Omega, Baring Teeth and Ulcerate