Stream: Surachai — “Sentinel”

Surachai is the metal project of Surachai Sutthisasanakul, a Chicago-based music technology nerd who contributes to the production/gear-fetish blog Trash Audio. Embraced, Surachai’s third album, is the first to garner my interest. Its left-of-center black metal has only a little in common with its predecessor, 2011’s To No Avail, and it sounds even less like the Meshuggah-influenced debut, Plague Diagram.

To hear Sutthisasanakul tell it—which he does at length on his blogEmbraced is very much a reflection of the process that created it. This man possesses a catholic set of musical skills, and he deploys all of them here: elaborate microphone schema, analog noise generation, abstruse mixing methods, and even a four-voice choral harmony technique that I haven’t encountered since Music Theory 001. (It’s applied to guitars instead of voices here.) This album also marks the first time that a Surachai recording has involved a full band; he formerly recorded every instrument himself. His supporting cast comes mostly from the ever-incestuous Chicago metal scene, including several members of Guzzlemug and the prolific guitarist Andrew Markuszewski.

Unusual creative processes such as Surachai’s have produced genius-level black metal, but they’ve also given us the kind of irritating pomposity that Velvet Cacoon’s “dieselharp” hoax skewered so artfully in the mid-aughts. Embraced fortunately avoids the latter. The compositions wriggle through transparently American contortions, but their motion is fluid rather than jerky.

This curious sense of smoothness comes largely from Guzzlemug drummer Charlie Werber, whose playing is Embraced’s most outstanding feature. I asked that IO stream “Sentinel” because it’s the best showcase for his unconventional style. Werber’s strokes-per-minute count is way up there with the master blasters, but the way he uses all of those notes is utterly different; instead of mapping onto a staccato grid, they blend together into a dizzying swirl that breathes as it seethes. When I first heard the term “burst beat,” I imagined a sound like this one, though Liturgy drummer Greg Fox never came close to executing the idea convincingly. Werber is a different story, and I’ve never heard anything quite like it.

Stream “Sentinel” below. It will see a digital release on April 23 via Trash Art and Surachai’s Bandcamp, with a vinyl release to follow in May.

—Doug Moore