Feral: 3 out of 5
Zebra Blood: 4 out of 5
Produced by: Matthew Bower (?)
Ouch, this is bleak stuff, perhaps fitting for the debut of new Sunroof! moniker Black Sun Roof, and the quite un-psychedelic cover art of a pretty emaciated looking dude (Bower?) in gloomy lighting with some blood-like looking mark across his torso, the picture bordered by a flat, muddy green. The mesmerizing clatter and blissed out cacophony of the group is here, but it’s very much buried behind a huge, crass wall of feedback, or poorly recorded fuzz akin to static, or, as on rather punishing, appropriately titled opener Shit Slaughter, a drone-ish, atonal riff. This can sink into a hazier format, such as on followup Lions + Peonies, but even when songs resemble more “traditional” ‘roof!, such as Temple of Mithras, there’s a more hauntingly personal aspect to the way it’s approached, with the anonymous busyness of former recordings – a sense of Bower and crew acting as a mass of many, collecting all of their noises into a somehow tuneful, though completely unmusical, pile – replaced by a tunnel vision sound, in which that same busyness cannot escape the forefronted assaulting layer. For those looking forward to something immediatly recognizable as Sunroof! – i.e. me – Feral can be a bit disappointing at first. But after the halfway point, we get the haunting Night Mare’s Milk, which is still in line with what’s mentioned above, but has a menacing riff and off warning bell acting as its aural centerpoint; it grounds the track – it sets Black Sun Roof somewhere on a continuum in the middle of Skullflower, Total, and “vanilla” ‘roof!, and asks for more patience with the album. It seems no accident that Feral opens up a bit after that, with the, er comparatively upbeat Son of the Blue Wolf sounding like a butchered NiN track, and the calmer, trance-like hum of Shadow of the Golden Fire.
I had to dig way more than usual to get to an understanding with Feral, which is reflected in its rating, but it is, ultimately, worth it.
Bonus CD Zebra Blood is a Bower-curated collection of career-stretching rarities, plus new track Spirit Animal Danzig. Notably, this latter is a pretty fun bit of heavy duty feedback-drenched guitar squonk, suggesting Feral was a purposeful experiment in sound and not an all-dominating new mood; in general, the disc really does give you the best of all worlds, and is also relatively sequenced to represent those worlds well. We start off in more upbeat territory than Feral (making it a good followup to the moody darkness of the LP), and trade off between drone and guitar-heavy works and experimental collage and some good ol’ psyche clatter. Mixed in are tracks with severely buried mysteriousness – a horn way back in Austrian Shade – that recall aspects of the Black Sun Roof material; this being a Total track, it’s another nod to that continuum I was mentioning, and makes it interesting to consider all of the different musical styles Bower’s identities have stepped through.
The more “approachable” variation on Zebra definitely makes it more immediate as well, and the juxtaposition of stuff helps to highlights its unique sounds. At the same time, after a few tracks, you can kinda sense that it’s a compilation; though it’s appreciably sequenced, it doesn’t have the wholly cohesive vibe of an album. That actually made owning this set on digital, also, a benefit, because by the time you get a little tired of Zebra Blood’s ebbs and flows, you’re prepared to try out Feral’s more brutal, but tighter, approach.