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Love is what makes us human. It guides our decisions, shapes our worldview, and defines our experiences. Its absence equates to tragedy while its presence gives our lives meaning. “Love has been well worn theme throughout a lot of rock music, but most commonly in terms of love-lost, overly romanticized versions of new love, or as a veil for sexual conquest,” says SUMAC guitarist and vocalist Aaron Turner (Old Man Gloom, Mamiffer, ISIS). “It is rarely addressed in its more spiritual and vulnerable aspects.” Those less-traversed territories of humankind’s connective bond became the central theme SUMAC’s third full-length album, Love In Shadow, though their explorations of that motif are a far cry from traditional manifestations of love in the realm of art. Across four protracted songs, Turner and his cohorts—Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists, Erosion) on drums and Brian Cook (Russian Circles) on bass—interlace and mangle sounds from their instruments in a sonic homage to both the innate warmth of human magnetism and the cold realities of corrupted love—jealousy, obsession, perversion, addiction.
Listeners who followed the Northwest trio down the tangled briar of mathematical riffs and hypnotic battery on The Deal or through the unfettered eruptions and methodical dissonance of What One Becomes are aware that SUMAC eschews the conventional balladry typically associated with odes to our spiritual connectedness. Saccharine sweetness or fatalistic tales of unrequited affection are nowhere to be found on Love In Shadow. Over the album’s hour-plus length, the band employs minimal tools to achieve a maximum overview of visceral passions. Yet while popular music puts an emphasis on conveying moods through well-tread tropes, cultural signifiers, and deeply ingrained associations between tempo, texture, melody and their respective emotional resonance, SUMAC approach their music with the tactile immediacy of abstract expressionists. The beauty is not in the content, but in the form.
Love In Shadow comes crashing out of the gate with "The Task." SUMAC wastes no time churning out the meticulous bombardment of knotty riffage and dexterous drumming that drew cerebral metalheads to their early records, but at the moment when most bands would wrap up their song, the band pushes forward and the razor sharp delivery and dense polyrhythmic weave of instrumentation begins to crumble. Turner’s signature bellow escalates into a primal howl. Everything falls apart, and suddenly we’re left alone with a warped melody played on a broken guitar. The band locks back into a lurching, megalith groove, and then retreats into a tense, minimalist palm-muted rhythmic pattern while a fragmented stream-of-conscious guitar line slithers across the open space. The entire song, and indeed the entire record, grapples with a duality of intricately composed arrangements juxtaposed against unbridled improvisations.