Suldusk – Antithesis


Suldusk started as the one-woman project of Melbourne multi-instrumentalist, Emily Highfield, and gained the attention of Napalm Records after the release of her 2019 debut, Lunar Falls. Now, Highfield has a wider vision for her art and counts a male co-vocalist (Shane Mulholland), a violinist (Hayley Anderson), a drummer (Frankie Demuru), and a bassist (Daniel Green) along with Mulholland and Josh Taylor joining her on guitar. If this wasn’t ambitious enough, she aims to expand her mystical folk music into the worlds of post-rock, shoegaze, and black metal. Her sophomore effort is a musical experience that will leave you imagining a utopia of perfect solitude.

This utopia is not one of complete harmony where danger is unknown, and the mind has no worries. If anything, a hissing witch incantation makes way for an angelic voice to echo among the highlands like a sorrowful apology to mother nature in opener ‘Astraeus’. Of what regret does this person speak? In which tongue does she implore her deity? You’ll have time to contemplate this when the jarring lo-fi black metal of ‘Verdalet’ erupts with captivating vocals reminiscent of Björk. Fans of Myrkur will enjoy this song. Listen to the sharp double-kick beats. Crystal clear guitar arpeggios shine like rough-cut diamonds under the sparkle of an ominous sunlight, yet a drop-tuned tremolo riff reoccurs throughout this song to remind you that Suldusk 2.0 have pretensions to be a metal band – albeit an avant-garde one.

Aythis comes to mind for the more ethereal moments of this record. Blissful keyboard atmospherics and multitudinous birdsong set the scene in ‘Crowns of Esper’ for hand toms and delicate folk guitars to guide Highfield’s voice. Listen how the violin blends in the background like a camouflage animal.  Serene calm is the aim in ‘Crystalline. Take a step back from the life that swirls you in its daily grind and observe. That’s all it asks of you. The electric guitars ponder in the same manner but with the rumble of the double-bass pedal. Suldusk want you to make your bedside next to a waterfall and imagine that no other human being can spoil your solitude. Of course, they know this cannot last for eternity. That’s why they fall into a vicious death-doom dirge at the three-minute mark.

Music like this is so expressive and easy to conjure images of a fantasy world of your choosing. What can be better than something that enriches the imagination. You could even call it romantic in the way it creates a sense of wide-eyed wonderment for the natural beauty of the things that surround us. You’ll enjoy the rich tapestry of voice and acoustic guitar as they cascade like a sparkling water stream in ‘Sphaera’. Hark how a second guitar plays the notes beyond the twelfth fret in a slow contemplation without turning into a lead frenzy. This allows the violins to emerge with a new source of tension. Part two of this song explodes into action at 04:18 with a circular drum beat and deeper vocal harmonies that call out to the wind in the expectation of a response.

Antithesis is a mystical folk album with black metal elements rather than a blackened folk metal record. But the black metal aspects are impressive in their malevolence. The title-track starts with a ferocious turbulence as if taking its cue from the whim of Highfield’s voice. It then settles into a slow beat of violins and clean guitar shapes with a ubiquitous reverb glow, only for the hysterical curse of the black metal vocals at 03:10 to erupt again like a long-dormant hex. Using extreme metal as a crescendo in folk music is clever – the dynamic peaks and troughs have even more edge to them.

Suldusk’s members create art that invites contemplation and encourages you to escape from your mundane reality into a fantasy world. Closing track, ‘A Luminous End’, is the best illustration of this approach when a sudden jolt into black metal at 02:50 transports you back to the dangers of the real world. Listen to the dramatic violin leads in the next section – can you feel your blood level rising? Can you feel the guitar arpeggios flow like dripping tap water underneath the pleasant reminisces of a sorrowful voice before the hand toms and strumming techniques add their clarity to ‘Mythical Creatures’.

You’ll find an abundance of questions and a multitude of possibilities in the music of Suldusk.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 01/03/2024

Record Label: Napalm Records

Standout tracks: Verdalet, Crowns of Esper, Anthesis

Suggested Further Listening: Aythis – Secrets from Below (2021), Myrkur – Mareridt (2017), The River – A Hollow Full of Hope (2023)