Special Features: Clear vinyl. Download code. Gold foil stamping and spot gloss.
- Indigo Illusion
- So Numb
- Way Out
- Secondary Arrows
- Sleep Well
- Wind Up
Release Date: August 25, 2017
Label: Profound Lore Records
Oo-wee! I'd better check my sense of humour at the door, because this album is some heavy shit. Entitled So Numb, and purportedly centred around themes of addiction and affliction, whilst weaving a story of destruction, redemption, existentialism and ennui, this album is probably blessed by its lack of vocals. Lord knows, only Trent Reznor would be able plumb lyrical depths hopelessly morose enough to match the band's intentions. According to the press release accompanying the record, Sannhet don't write lyrics; "they pen love letters, extended epistles, and suicide notes, all without words." Now, that's a pretty ambitious mission statement given the limited palette at their disposal via their core setup of guitar, bass, and drums. Whilst it would be difficult to discern which of these nine tracks would be the love letter, and which the suicide note, there's no denying that over the course of So Numb, Sannhet create a palpable, arresting atmosphere and, like the best instrumental rock music, frequently strike that sweet spot between beautiful mournfulness, pummelling aggression, and towering euphoria.
Sannhet brought Peter Katis on board to produce So Numb, and he's a fascinating fit for the band when you consider, firstly, what Sannhet sounded like on their early EPs and first LP, Known Flood, and, secondly, the work Katis has done with the likes of Interpol, Mercury Rev, and The National. Sannhet started life as a black-metal-inflected post-rock band, whose recordings were almost oppressively muddy; there was very little light or air between the instruments. There was also a relative lack of variety in tone and texture, which meant that the whole experience of listening blurred somewhat in the memory. Revisionist brought some clarity of sound and improved songcraft, and particularly in its first half, pushed the band in directions that took it away from its purer metal influences. Sure, there were still blast beats and coruscating guitars aplenty, but 'Enemy Victorian', for example, introduced entirely new sounds (including guitar leads that wouldn't have sounded out of place on The Cure's Disintegration) and a far greater emphasis on melodicism. Maybe it was the opening bars of 'You Thy____' that got Katis interested, sounding, as they do, very reminiscent of Interpol.
Whatever the reason for the collaboration, with Katis manning the boards, Sannhet have made their best sounding album by far (although I can imagine some longtime fans will find the production a little too clean, polished, and safe). From the strange rhythmic crunches in opener, 'Indigo Illusions', to the squealing guitar lead in 'Sapphire', to the shimmering 80s keys on 'Secondary Arrows'; this is an album full of interesting sonic elements that vie for and maintain the listener's attention. 'Way Out', more than any other track on here, flirts with the sounds of 00s indie rock and belies Katis' influence. The opening section's drum pattern could have been performed by The National's Bryan Devendorf himself. The song also features a thrilling moment where the composition is stripped back to a plaintive piano melody, before the guitars rush back in. It's as if the titular "way out" has been found, and then we're plunged back into the darkness; be it addiction, suicidal ideation, or helpless rage. The sensation is akin to that scene in Blackfish, where the orca toys with the handler, letting him come up for air before dragging him back down.
So Numb reaches its zenith in 'Salts', a track which sounds unlike anything else they've produced before, but achieves the kind of mesmeric apotheosis that the band has always aimed for. The track alternates between gently strummed chords, ominous Haxan Cloak-esque booming bass and kick drum, and twinkling goth-pop-inflected passages, which suggest that Sannhet could just as easily have signed to 4AD (although Profound Lore is a perfect fit - do check out their roster). In its climactic final third, the track reaches that level of unique transcendence which fans of post-rock keep coming back for. Seriously, what is it about those slow builds and crescendos that's so satisfying?
Of course, Sannhet are unusual in this respect, in that they fit their epic compositions into relatively short track durations. There are no Godspeed-esque quarter-hour builds here - hell, there aren't even Explosions in the Sky-esque eight minute builds. Most tracks hover around the three to four minute mark. In the past, this was often to Sannhet's detriment, as they struggled to get to a payoff that was merited by what preceded it within the time constraints. Unfortunately, even on So Numb's longest track, 'Fernbeds' (which features lead guitar from Planning For Burial's Thom Wasluck), the crescendo feels anticlimactic, as a fairly predictable chord progression takes centre stage. Sometimes, it feels like these tracks need a little more time to develop organically and reach the levels of drama they deserve to. But, then maybe they wouldn't be Sannhet songs anymore.
There's a lot to admire on So Numb, certainly. The band has evolved in hugely positive ways, in everything from songwriting to sheer sound design. However, the wild ugliness of de facto album closer, 'Sleep Well' (wow, these The National parallels keep racking up, am I right?) makes me wish that the band's metal influences were still a bit more prominent. If you're a fan of Explosions in the Sky, Russian Circles, or even Deafheaven (but don't care so much for black metal vocal stylings), you will find plenty to enjoy on here. Sannhet make muscular music that is paradoxically vulnerable and open-hearted. Bassist AJ Annunziata has commented upon another paradox at the album's heart: for him, So Numb sounds like "intense fucking dread and misery," but he is aware that others hear triumph and majesty in it. The great thing is, by not having Trent Reznor sing about his blackened soul over the top of it, you can hear what you want.
P.S.: No offence to Trent Reznor. He's a legend. - Andy Johnston (The Four Oh Five https://www.thefourohfive.com/review/review-sannhet-merge-crushingly-bleak-despair-with-wide-eyed-wonder-on-so-numb-150)