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Album Review: Sunndrug – Exit Wounds (Out October 31)

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Sunndrug was conceptualized by the partnership of metalcore veterans Jimmy Reeves and Chris Raines. Backed by an additional 3-man personnel (Junior Favela, Clint Kesler, Matt Beck), their material rings interestingly and is wholly unexpected. For reference, I wasn’t much a fan of its members’ previous outings, Spitfire and Norma Jean, so I was initially hesitant.

However, in listening to Sunndrug’s debut, Exit Wounds, I was especially intrigued that nothing remotely close to metalcore is presented. Further, my perception Reeves’ and Raines’ creative palette changed dramatically. Then just for kicks, I thought of listening back to their previous metalcore material, and it hit me. I realized that while the tune may be new, the brooding thematic intensity is kept intact.

From the opening “White Ladders”, it seems the band leans strongly toward an experimental spectrum. I found the bass line minimal, yet punchy. That combination alone sets a distinct vibrancy to complement the percussion. Bursts of sparse guitar and gated feedback also contribute equally to the song’s pacing. But that’s just the tip of the presentation. On the surface, its lyrical delivery comes off as a string of detached scenarios, featuring sporadically harmonized vocals. What’s revealed in the full picture is, in fact, the foundation of one’s mental state gradually coming apart. The track to follow is the album’s carrier single, “Denial,” which starkly contrasts with the previous song. Fans are aware of its original placement on Alive and Barely Breathing Vol. 2, the first side showcasing relatively heavy rock. In the context of the album, its grungy guitar tone and thumping, reverbed drumbeat fits comfortably. Some imagery of a wildly pulsating heart on display, all the while structural surroundings continuously crumble, is brought to mind. Whereas the lyrics suggest a sense of patience in easing the strain, the instrumentation is like a time bomb, clouding Reeves’ entire psyche with unnatural pressure. The chorus has its presence slightly more pronounced, although the variant backing guitar textures justify the effect. By the third track, “Blackout,” I really obtained a sense of what’s on offer. Not even close to halfway into the album, and I’m definitely curious. This time both the vocals and instrumentation begin largely subdued. The accompanying piano strikes on the verses have an authenticity about them—slightly detuned, and subtly portraying a loss of innocence throughout. A unique “spectral stereo” effect occurs at 1:08, wherein the guitar on the right speaker catalyzes the rest of the instrumentation. The buildup that follows leads to a false climax, with the true one happening around 3:18. Again I was thrown off, as it was the piano serving as the driving element for the climax, rather than guitar. “Psy-Vamp” cleans the intensity somewhat with an electronic-influenced pace. The buildup is better defined, with a longer fade and a foundation of varying static percussion. Throughout, the tonality of the synths and guitar stays relatively consistent, and I enjoyed the eventual shift from static samples to bold, straight-ahead toms. Returning to a guitar-driven vibe, “Shining” has a Darkside-era Pink Floyd progression to it. Every drum fill is an obstacle conquered, while the lead melodies punctuate that sense of triumph. The vocals sustain a coarse distortive feel that sits well against the guitars. From this involvement, a wall of sounds steadily builds to a point of surrounding the song. A solo then takes over its remainder, focusing largely on phrasing rather a surplus of notes, which always earns my vote.

If “Shining” represents the trail on which strife has been endured, “Stilts” is that of mustered temerity. It’s not necessarily claiming Reeves’ vulnerability; rather, his exhibiting caution in confronting the partner with whom they’d held a deep connection. Accordingly, this song’s particular percussion seems limp-like, capped with bass effects that cover the subdued vocals. At 1:08, the chorus is pronounced by a thick bass line, along with a now coherent vocal delivery that highlights his fear to tread. In doing so, the itch to put on a false front in order to face that fear becomes rampant. The titular track is an interlude and by far one of the most substantial representations of fresh slashes to the heart. A slightly detuned melody sits is at its core, while a stumbling heartbeat thumps loudly. Jutting outward is a fragmented major chord entails fond memories being forcefully pushed out. A strumming of the string ends then become fragmented while the core begins to glitch, the only constant instrumentation being a mournful piano sequence. On the eighth track, “Halo,” it’s as if Reeves’ spirit begins hovering over vague memories that would bring him joy. Whether they’re a place that he and his partner would meet, or the radiant features specific to her, ultimately, he holds her in grandiose regard. Sabbath-esque riffs define the chorus, and, in other terms, the extent of anguish experienced. “Big Data” then pushes that negativity to extremes, as Reeves essentially becomes what he sought to defeat. The electro percussion during the verses plays like everyday thought processes, while the overdriven chorus portrays a chemical misfire. In addition to the conventional solo in the latter part of the track, there is a creatively compacted version in the form of samples. The transition to the second tonality generally feels natural, continuing to the song’s end. In “Group Therapy,” Reeves sets a series of ground rules for both his partner and himself. Similar to “Shining,” he exhibits a newfound sense of control, as well as the essence of 70s-style prog aiding in delivering his point. But like the titular track, the following interlude “Echolaia” represents another failed reconciliation attempt. As a result, the final track, “Young Blood,” has Reeves exhibiting dramatic growth. That is, learning to regain long-term control and move forward. Although wounds remain, their impact is overlooked in favor of a longing to set a fresh, independent path.

Overall, Exit Wounds sets a bottomless precedent for an artist’s journey toward reinvention. Its presentation is, indeed, a far cry from past band material, pushing a blend of unadulterated of classic, alternative, and electronic. This is only the beginning for Sunndrug, and I’m confident that the band’s sonic, as well as conceptual identity, will see great success.

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Compositions
Breaking Ground
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About Jake Kussmaul

I come from a family who is passionate about all things music. I learned to sing at an early age, and by 13, had my very own Fender Strat guitar. I tried my hardest at learning all that I could. Because I was born with cerebral palsy, I had to teach myself an adaptive playing style. I learned to write and record my own music, despite these difficulties. In college, I started making great use of my writing abilities by reviewing music, as well as copy editing. I guess it's best to stick with what you know, while welcoming a fair challenge at the same time.

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