Artsy covers with an emphasis on softness and the color white are typically the universal signs of mediocrity, especially when they’re involved with anything relating to post-black-sludge-gaze-atmospheric whatever. These albums are always overhyped by a few (including popular publications), only to be massively downrated in the coming months when people realize just how not special the album is. So obviously that’s what I was expecting with Old Sunlight, and album that couldn’t have checked off any more of the hipster metal checkmarks if it could. And in a strange turn of events, it gave me pretty much exactly what I was expecting, however the end result was an album that actually left me quite satisfied.
The first thing I noticed was the extensive use of the black metal-like tremelo riffs as the centerpiece of the album. Black metal wasn’t tagged at all here so that was quite a surprise. However that made me all the more cautious when approaching this thing, as that was one more bullet point I didn’t want to be checked. I felt initially that while the drumming and surprisingly harsh tone of the music gave quite an intimidating atmosphere, everything was just a bit too bland for me to really get hooked. I didn’t really get into the album until the end of the first track Ordalian, in which Latitudes uses full stop pauses to create tension towards the peak of the track. It’s not often that silence is used so well in an atmospheric sludge metal album, a genre that’s at times, notoriously noisy. That was the first instance where I figured maybe this album had something interesting to it.
I think what this album does the best is create an effective combination between aggression and melancholy. When I listen to this album I feel as if a family member who was already of old age had just died. I’m angry that someone I cared for has been lost, but at the same time I understand that it was their time, and know that I have to hold back my sadness and be strong for those around me, letting it all cry out on the inside, while keeping a stiff outer shell. It’s actually the clean vocals that do this, which work because they aren’t of the whiny cunt kind, they’re of the soft and smooth kind. It’s the kind of shit you would sleep to if the music wasn’t so loud. You’d think that soft and calm vocals over emotionally tense riffage would break my cheese meter but no, it actually works quite well. However the reason it works quite well is both a strength of the album, and also a reason why I can’t quite give this an 8/10.
The production is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, the at times overly fuzzy and soft production can create both an atmosphere of immensely serene calm, luring the listener into a state of warm sadness, like depression giving you a hug. And at other times, of which these are fewer, but much more impactful, it just takes all of the umph out of the music, getting it lost in itself, and thus getting you lost in the music (in a bad way mind you). There’s just times where the album dies because of the production blending all the sounds together a bit too much, as well as the band literally adding repeat signs to longer phrases that shouldn’t have them.
Old Sunlight is a fantastic album that takes the stereotypes of soft metal and actual executes them to a high level. It just doesn’t quite do enough to warrant an AOTY consideration in its genre. At least for now.