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Ylem Alex Deller , November 3rd, 2021 09:43

Minneapolis metal trio get beefy, still nightmarish

Just about the only kindness Sunless offer up with Ylem is in naming the opening track ‘Spiralling Into The Unfathomable’, which if nothing else at least helps steel you for the terror and confusion to come.

Their second album – and first for ‘difficult metal’ powerhouse Willowtip Records – sees the death metal trio picking up the conceptual threads of 2017 predecessor Urraca and weaving them into ever stranger patterns that frequently border on the psychedelic. While their debut was an accomplished and admittedly astonishing debut, Ylem sees the band bulked up and seeming far more comfortable in its own ugly skin. 2021 Sunless finds the group notably boosted by new drummer Taylor Hamel and a more nuanced production that’s far better suited to their quicksilver ebb and flow.

Whilst technical, multi-multifaceted, and owing more than a small nod to Gorguts, Ylem is a far cry from the more regimented likes of tech-death demigods Obscura. Instead, Sunless follow the more unlit path travelled by the likes of Ulcerate, Pyrrhon, and Thantifaxath: an oozing and organic take on virtuosity that lets its shiny edges corrode. This is an album that refuses to buff down snaggly edges or clip off any of the many strange vestigial protrusions.

Huge riffs slip and slither over and into each other, lithely shifting from chromatic, chigga-chigga regularity and Voivodian angles into a huge, gaping expanse. Arcane vomitations splash endlessly forth, adding the kind of unpleasant texture that needs to be laboriously scrubbed away with thick bleach and a good strong Brillo pad. The tasteful acoustic interlude to be found peacefully inhabiting ‘Atramentous’ recalls something Cynic-al, but the respite is short-lived as things become gradually more crazed and tangled, and in no time flat we’re enmeshed in ‘Perpetual Contortion’ – another aptly-named track that bucks and twists as though its hairy nethers were wired to a car battery.

As busy, overloaded, and horrifically unnatural as it all is, though, everything also makes perfect sense. Initially akin to being randomly dropped in a maze of jagged obsidian mirrors, the trick is to pause, take several deep breaths, and zoom out as far as you reasonably can. What you’ll then realise, for better or worse, is that Ylem isn’t eight separate, distinct songs that happen to interlock when the pieces randomly jigsaw into place. Oh no. Instead, it’s one spiralling, interconnected hellscape whose nightmare terrain never, ever stops shifting.