Five years ago, I was an ex-scene kid who had little to do with the sort of screamy, bombastic music that metal had to offer. I thought my taste in Radiohead and Sigur Rós precluded me from finding any enjoyment in the metal genre.
Then, Sunbather happened.
It was a subversive record that wrestled the lush textures of shoegaze and post rock and mashed them into the harshness of black metal. Strange bedfellows, to be sure, but damn, was their love child a beautiful beast.
Roads to Judah, their debut, wasn’t quite as groundbreaking, but it cleared the roads a bit. While many magnum opuses are preceded by albums that hardly stand in the masterpiece’s shadow (I’m looking at you, Pablo Honey), Roads to Judah almost doesn’t require Sunbather.
With four songs across 38 minutes, Roads to Judah plays much like its successor: “Violet” opens with a few minutes of straight shoegaze before the blast beats and shredded guitar come in. “Language Games” is more conventional black metal…except for the fact that it’s in a major key. The relentless black onslaught of “Unrequited” starts off as a ballad. “Tunnel of Trees” starts with the same aggressive energy before crashing into atmospherics and building to a climax.
If Sunbather feels like it followed the same map a little too closely, it’s only because it’s so damn effective here. It’s a field that was too ripe to only cull a single album for it. And personally, I’m glad they didn’t take a New Bermuda–esque left turn until after they perfected their craft.
And, shoegaze fan that I am, it helps that this is the only studio release that features Nothing/Whirr guitarist Nick Bassett in the lineup.