LLNN, “Unmaker” of Eardrums, Pushes the Envelope On Post-Metal Heaviness (Review)
There’s a tendency in cultural theory circles to bemoan a lack of innovation in contemporary rock music. While this is true to a certain extent - indie rock in particular is stuck in a perpetual loop of retro contortions - extreme metal has mostly managed to avoid this peculiar dearth of ideas. The genre’s history is defined by its determination to up the ante on its own previous incarnations, in an arms race-like fashion, as Brad Sanders brilliantly described it. The inherent boundary-pushing nature of extreme music means it never gets tired of this one-upmanship, intrinsically kicking back against itself and obliterating its own limitations.
Denmark’s LLNN are the latest frontier-bursters to push at the limits of contemporary extremity. Previous level-ups in metal have depended on factors like progressive technicality, lyrical transgressions and increases (or vast decreases) in tempo. LLNN, who nominally fall under the ‘post-metal’ banner (an increasingly meaningless signifier), approach this genre escalation by taking post-metal’s icy and patient formalism and injecting it with mind-blowing maximalist textures. Unmaker is something truly monolithic, carrying the foundational soundscapes laid down on the band’s three previous full-lengths to dizzying new heights.
The album’s cold, metallic textures crash like a rain of hammers against sheet metal. The genre’s name has rarely been put to better use - this is as a scarily accurate representation of the musical texture of ‘heavy metal’. LLNN’s music almost seems to have been physically sculpted, bent, warped and pummelled into its majestic final form. The opening of “Forger” and the midpoint of “Interloper” both exemplify this colossal intensity, as if replicating the metallic textures and enormous scale of a Richard Serra sculpture. Serra, who crafts sparsely designed but huge metal monoliths, often using molten lead, has built a body of work once described as “terrifying and mesmerizing” - a neat summary of Unmaker.
The album is patient and deliberate in its harrowing approach. This gives the music the space and time to continuously shift between the synthetic and elemental, from the factory floor to calving glaciers. It’s this steady use of tempo that helps define Unmaker’s phenomenal heaviness. The tracks rarely exceed that of a mid-tempo trudge, as if the weightiness would collapse under any more urgent speeds. “Scion” is especially lumbering, progressing towards a midpoint break that booms with the force of an immense bomb exploding. A tolling bell overlays the ensuing carnage as if to further evoke the notion that the track is ushering in some sort of slow but inexorable cataclysm.
These sorts of metaphors are not just essential for describing how relentlessly heavy Unmaker’s tones and textures are, the dense production work practically invites them. A key component of Unmaker’s compositional makeup is LLNN’s syncing of the heaviest guitar riffs with the rhythm of the drums and vocals, best illustrated on the apocalyptic “Obsidian” and the simple but devastating climax “Tethers”. This adds up to a riveting effect whereby the instrumentation is condensed into single pressure-cooked slabs of tungsten-dense metal. It collapses the boundaries of traditional instrumentation, and reduces the music to its purest and most crushingly intense form.
This relentless and searing brutality does mean that Unmaker lacks a certain degree of nuance. The tone varies little throughout - it’s either eerie ambience, bass-lead verse sections or bludgeoning riffs that shake the Earth and soul. “Interloper” injects some comparably serene, Year Of No Light-esque murkiness, however otherwise LLNN rarely stray from their short (very much so when compared to bands of a similar ilk) tracks which stick to a rigid but distinctive formula. Because LLNN are so effective at performing this unique mode of oppressive heaviness, it’s forgivable that Unmaker, an album that will likely prove their breakthrough, focuses on what the band do best. They’re expanding the textural vocabulary of metal with all the subtlety of a star turning supernova, and it’s an awe-inspiring thing to witness.
Unmaker releases today via Pelagic Records.