Review: Surachai – Embraced

surachai-embracedA self-release is perhaps the ideal situation for most artistic endeavors, while you may lack the economical support a publisher may give you, the alternative of being truly independent and free to fulfill your vision any way you please it’s perhaps the ultimate goal for any creative person. It is of course also risky, being entirely responsible for your own work and its promotion is a huge undertaking. Many have turned to crowdsourcing as an alternative, coming from the success of many popular projects in various creative trades, there has been a surge in popularity for this kind of monetizing. But ultimately, the choosing of the most convenient alternative will perhaps be a huge influence in the final result of any project. To eschew set paths and routine seems to be a part of Surachai Sutthisasanakul’s personality, having done all of his major releases as a one man army, which is not uncommon to the whole black metal ethos, he decided that for his latest and perhaps most ambitious musical project he should shake things up a bit by working with a band of talented musicians from the Chicago scene and go the totally self-financing route.

Surachai’s claim to fame (this being a really relative term in the metal sense) recently came with his previous albums being picked by the infamous free-and-digital-only label Grindcore Karaoke, his intense mix of grind and black metal aesthetics impressed would-be taste-maker J. Randall enough to add it to the somewhat controversial Bandcamp based project. Also part of gear-worship blog Trash_Audio, it should be already clear by now that music is no mere hobby for Surachai, and the actual sound of it leaves absolutely no doubt about it. Still, if you have any question about the making of Embraced, you could simply point your browsers to the very detailed post he made about it. Everything from the composition to the vinyl pressing is related there, and it will give unusual insight into the work involved in the craft of an album that usually you have to piece by yourself from many different sources.

Usually whenever you get blackened-something-or-the-other into your playlist you’re left with almost apologetic tracks that feel somewhat ashamed of daring to taint either part of the mix, be it the black metal foundations or the rogue influences. Gladly, Embraced has no such qualms, even compared with its own previous works, this has perhaps the most traditional black metal sounding music of them all, the grind and near-”djentian” time signatures of Plague Diagram are almost entirely gone, with the electronic sounds being more of a subtle tint to the whole aural palette intertwined with (as Surachai himself writes on his blog post) a really old-school 4 part choral style for the guitars with bass, tenor, alto and soprano tones. With all this you might think Embraced may sound a bit tame, and you would be completely mistaken. Ferocious and menacing are the words that would describe the record most of the play time. While not a new affair regarding Surachai, this time the music seems to take this savagery to new levels, even flirting with true chaos at times. This may even make his previous works seem controlled and almost linear by comparison, and that is saying a lot about the natural and organic feeling coming from Embraced, because without it to provide this contrast, you would never use these adjectives to describe either To No Avail or Plague Diagram.

With only 34 minutes of playing time, this album wastes no precious time and right away with a sense of urgency the guitars wail in full force in opener Ancestral with a disturbingly almost-human-like moan that in conjunction with the very real howls of Surachai evokes an imposing sense of gloominess that few others can elicit. 15 minutes later and after a few moments of atmospheric respite but without feeling any less ominous thanks to its alien electronic sounds, the second track Centinel takes us on a journey through the starry nights and its imposing voids with great emotional melodies that are a monument to the tremolo picking all by themselves, and the second half of this track rendering close to ancestral tribal ceremonies thanks to a powerful rhythm section that eventually evolves and devolves into itself in a percussive maelstrom that gives way to the closer Surrender. This one is no slouch either, starting with an electronic beat reminiscent somehow of the mechanical horrors of 1950’s sci-fi B-movies, and then after a minute or so jumping back to the despairing sounds that are almost disturbingly familiar by this time. The final and short outro on this song comes almost as hopeful and optimist by contrast as the rest of the session was oppressive and murky, almost giving the sense of future continuity in hopes of a proper episodic sequel that would be very welcome to this listener.

The production is great giving life to that primordial but still alien feel to the whole record. Even in the more chaotic moments of the record, every instrument keeps its own personality, and with really skilled musicians such as these, coming with a great underground “pedigree” of bands like Murmur and Nachtmystium, it’s a real proud achievement of the mixing to give them all its own space to shine.

Its a shame to me then that Embraced hasn’t found a bigger audience, if its Bandcamp numbers are to be believed, then far too few people has given this truly independent venture a real listening chance. With the somewhat tainted general view of USBM being stale, it’s saddening that something as forward thinking as Surachai’s music is being almost entirely snubbed by most year end lists. It certainly is no background music, you may have to devote some serious listening time to it for full effect, but the emotional rewards will certainly be worthy of the investment.