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Blood & Spirit Bernie Brooks , May 27th, 2022 08:47

Nonsun’s latest LP is a heavy treat that delights in subverting the doom template, says Bernie Brooks

Early spring always finds me surfing a wave of doom, which might seem strange given that here in Metro Detroit things are finally regreening, photosynthesising, sprouting. The deeply depressing grey-browns of March – the trash hung up in bare deciduous shrubbery, the blackened remainders of the snowplow's work – are being overgrown or have melted. Things look alive again. But here I am, reaching for all things heavy, hauling out my Harvey Milk CDs, my Weedeater, Aseethe, The Body, whatever. Noise rock and heavy psychedelia, too. Maybe it's the allergic fug about April, or its low hanging clouds and atmospheric volatility. There's doom-y ambience, too, here in the suburbs. The drone of planes flying low to avoid weather systems, the din of actual Weed Eaters and power tools and the desperate rush to begin long overdue infrastructure maintenance made even more desperate by winter’s destructive tendencies. That’s the score of the season, and it is heavy. So, perhaps my vernal listening is of a piece, feeding into and playing off of that. Anyway, all of this is to say that right now, I am one with the low-end, at peace with the riff, receptive to all things crushing. And as fate and providence would have it, it’s now that Nonsun’s latest LP Blood & Spirit has found its way into my inbox.

The band describe themselves as “doom/post-rock/drone/experimental”, but one look at titles like ‘A Wizard Grieving Over The Loss Of Magic’ and that info becomes redundant. Track lengths, too, let you know what you’re in for. The shortest here is 7:41, the other four clock in at over ten minutes. This is roaring, stomping doom that isn’t afraid to get Earth-y or let its inner Mogwai take over from time to time.

The aforementioned ‘Wizard’ opens the album. It features, in order: a pastoral intro, some majestic guitar churn, monastic vocal drones, chugging riffage, atmospheric synths, literal roaring, an almost ambient interlude with more monk vox, and – finally – a spare percussion and synth drone outro. It’s so wicked. In lesser hands it might come off as ridiculous, but here it’s perfect and often surprising. Done poorly, doom metal can often feel template driven and posey, but for the truly inspired, that very same template can be subverted, allowing an artist to throw curveball after curveball. Nonsun are truly inspired, and damn, it's delightful.

Elsewhere, ‘Guilt, Disgust, Disaster’ never drifts too far from post-rock. It resists the full-on guitar skuzz and thundering drums of a lumbering, lurching beast like ‘That Which Does Not Kill’. Instead, its drums are lighter on their feet, its guitars mostly content to shimmer and sometimes crunch, seemingly in honour of those feedbackers who came before. It’s still heavy, but measured and graceful, too. Then the noir sax shows up and takes the track somewhere else altogether for a little while, before sweeping strings kick in and the thing explodes like Mogwai songs used to. There’s a masterful ebb and flow to these compositions. Like a river, you get caught up in the current and just go with it.

Last fall, not far from where I live, a weed dispensary was destroyed when the ground beneath it buckled and improbably swelled, lifting it high up into the air as a foul odour and watery, yellowish ooze spilled from the cracking, emerging mound and out onto the street. For a couple of days afterward – before it was demolished with all of its product still inside, unreachable – the wreckage of the building swayed uneasily atop its new perch. I don’t know about you, but if you ask me, there’s no better metaphor for the peak doom metal vibe. Do your tunes feel like a head shop being consumed by an as-yet-unexplained geologic or Anthropocene anomaly? Congratulations! You’ve reached top-tier pinnacle doom! On Blood & Spirit, Nonsun scale this summit again and again, riding bucking, displaced concrete to a heavy nirvana.

It seems impossible and irresponsible not to mention that the members of Nonsun hail from Lviv, Ukraine and are, like many artists in areas of crisis, more in need of support than ever. But before you accuse me of burying the lede, consider that where they’re from is more or less beside the point, which is: Blood & Spirit is rad as hell. Further consider that a record this rad – a record written well before the current invasion began – deserves to be heard without the baggage of a horrible humanitarian crisis. To think, “This jam seems oddly prescient of the current geopolitical situation,” after listening to ‘Days Of Thunder Bring New Wisdom’ does the band (and the track) a bit of a disservice. The invasion doesn't make Nonsun any more or less interesting, or worthy of being heard, or any better or worse. Without a war, all you’d say is, “This is so sick.” Blissfully emptyheaded, you could gaze into a freak Michigan whiteout dumping inches of snow on new shoots and daffodils the day after Easter, Nonsun raging in your headphones all the while, and feel as if Blood & Spirit caused the sky to cave in.