If metal had more artists half as adventurous as Surachai Sutthisasanakul, the terrain would be a lot more exciting to traverse. Over the course of three full-length albums and a handful of EPs, the Chicago-based artist has made some of the more perplexing and stimulating sounds the genre could boast, and he made these weird, metallic creations on his own, with no backing band.
But he changed his mind about the collaboration deal going into the third Surachai album “Embraced,” a platter being released on Trash_Audio and Bandcamp, and that he made, for the first time ever, with a full band. It’s not like his audience was clamoring for him to try something different, because this project was moving along nicely, having last checked in with 2011’s tremendous “To No Avail,” a two-track, 21-minute wonder that remains in my listening arsenal to this day. But what the audience wants and what the artist wants don’t have to be the same, and considering Sutthisasanakul is the one in charge of making this art, he needs to follow his whims, and we need to trust him. Luckily doing that pays huge dividends with “Embraced,” one of the fieriest Surachai albums to date.
This three-track, nearly 34-minute album is the beefiest Surachai album to date, and perhaps having extra personnel to help Sutthisasanakul achieve his vision also helped him expand his creativity. The songs are boisterous, aggressive, but also very intelligent, and the closest comparison I can think of to compare this to is Krallice’s work. But that’s only a comparison, as Surachai’s music is completely distinguishable from that band, but if you need to associate it with another group’s sound, there you go. Surachai always changes things up with weird noises, heady programming, and other sonic additions that complement the music and keep you wondering where this is going next. It’s an incredible experience all around, and it’s the best Surachai album to date.
I mentioned the extra cast surrounding Sutthisasanakul, and they are guitarists Shane Prendeville (Guzzlemug, Murmur) and Andrew Markuszewski (who you’ll know from his black metal project Avichi, as well as from Nachtmystium and the mighty Lord Mantis), acoustic bassist Tom Kelly (also of Guzzlemug), drummer Charlie Werber (also of Guzzlemug, Murmur), sound designer Richard Devine (Warp, Schematic), and buchla easel player Alessandro Cortini (How to Destroy Angels). That’s a formidable collection of musicians in general, but the fact they’ll all Chicago-based is a little intimidating.
The band launches into “Ancestral,” with dizzying melodies, guitars that are trying to hypnotically warp the mind, and harsh vocals that sound savage and determined. This is where the Krallice comparison first feels right, but just as they lean into that weird, spacey black metal headspace, it comes to a halt, and programming slips in, treating everything with a chilly woosh. Then it blows back up again into a full storm, only to slip back into an alien calm that takes us into “Sentinel.”
That song also begins with a breezy frame of mind, but before long a doom-infested landslide takes place, and out of that rises shoegazey guitars and more crazed howls. There’s a nice long section in the middle where everyone plays off each other musically, and it ends in full robotic mode, feeling like someone’s trying to process your emotion in some kind of antiseptic lab. Closer “Surrender” rises from the ashes, still ensconced in the lab but also ready to ramp up its fury to new, frightening levels. A black haze and off-kilter strangeness spill in and change the complexion of the song, going even further into adventurous sonic examinations, sometimes letting chaos back into the picture. But as the song boils seemingly out of control, serenity glides in, the band lets their lungs fill with air, and you’re allowed to exhale with them as the album comes to its conclusion.
Surachai’s journey continues to go into unexpected corners, and it’s one of the reasons this project remains so rewarding to follow. On top of that, Sutthisasanakul’s creativity know no bounds, and whether he’s by himself or with an incredibly accomplished group of players, he always comes up with compositions that keep you engaged and enthralled. This is his best work to date, though I don’t question he’ll top himself next time around. It’s just what he does.
For more on the band, go here: http://surachai.org/
To buy the album, go here: http://trashaudio.com/store
For more on the label, go here: http://trashaudio.com/