Light and dark; sun and shade; yin and yang – everything in life requires balance, and one cannot exist without the other. Brisbane’s psychedelic prog rock kings Sunset Junkies take a deep dive into the dark night of the soul and the complexity, frailty and glory of the human experience in their powerful sophomore album ‘Darkness Visible.’ Stephen King famously wrote that “sooner or later, everything old is new again”, and musically, that is certainly the case with the riveting retro revival that is ‘Darkness Visible.’ Picture, if you will, Woodstock-era rock that’s been grunged up a bit, with a gutsy metal edge and some Rush-esque prog stylings thrown in for good measure, and you’d have an estimation of the unique yet accessible sound that Sunset Junkies offers on this record. Despite its title, ‘Darkness Visible’ conveys a sense of optimistic, uplifting lightness that contrasts with its inherent grungy moodiness, transporting the listener on an odyssey through the shades of grey within us.
Album opener Let it Out is immediately engaging with some solid guitar grooves layered with a shimmering sheen of acoustic guitars, and already I’m right back in the Seventies. A mellow piano melody follows, and the gravelly, soulful vocals of guitarist/vocalist Byron Short deliver with such passion the line that sets the tone for the album to come: “It will consume me if I don’t let it out”. It’s a well-balanced track that ebbs and flows while packing a real punch with a fun injection of some very Sixties psychedelic synths in the last 30 seconds. The momentum continues with I Wanna Be The One, where vocalist Ellie lends her velvety pop tones to both bring the attitude and contrast effectively with Byron’s rasps in the chant-like chorus. The track then takes a surprising turn as it expands into a driving, immersive wall of sound built around bright major chords that the great man Devin Townsend would be proud of.
After a final flourish of the acoustic and a ballsy chorus reprise, an ominous whispered spoken word passage creeps in like tendrils of smoke slowly curling and seeping through cracks in a doorway. When the faint whisper and ghostly blues guitars fade away, the Tool-esque guitar grooves of Lily swagger in, giving way to a tasty bluesy bass line in the subdued verses and an almost Spiderbait-like grunged-up chorus that serves as a powerful melodic hook in the track. They love their beautifully harmonised chants in this band, and the layering of Byron and Ellie’s distinctive timbres is so effective.
The initial desolation of Dark Dreams, all new-age shimmers and low, intimate vocals, morphs into a poignant seventies rock chorus chanting “Dreaming alone, waking alone”. The gentle, ethereal nature of this track has me floating along a beam of light, drifting among the stars, building, building, building then fading away to a single note on the cello. It’s a minimalistic yet ingenious use of orchestral and synth layers as well as choirs. Then the gutsy Pentagram crashes in to invite us to partake in a hypnotising musical ritual. Uneven time signatures and polyrhythms, contrasting with swaggering guitars and a steady triplet beat in the choruses amp up the prog factor, but the magic is truly woven when the track reaches its climax with the chants of “Step inside the pentagram, turn the pentagram upside down”. If you dig The Doors as much as you do Chaos Divine, this track brings the best of both worlds.
Love and War takes off with a classic heavy metal urgency reminiscent of Motorhead, flying through a few very catchy choruses from Byron until suddenly those brilliant major chords emerge like the sunrise and open this track up into an extended prog journey, complete with a guitar solo, grinding grooves and wall-of-sound choirs. Then Godless kicks down the door with confident, sexy riffs from the rhythm section, including a post-chorus guitar melody that steadily rises then falls, almost as if we’re trying to climb the long staircase towards those pearly white gates, but do we really want to get there? What is heaven really, and who decides? Maybe, as the track suggests, “I’m longing in my heart to be godless”.
After the unsettling noise bites of ambient bridging track Darker Still, we arrive at Divinity, the final and longest track of “Darkness Visible”. All that is unholy is embraced as holy – we recognise ourselves for who we truly are. Neither light nor dark, but both. And indeed, after the despairing yet defiant choruses of “God forbid a man like me experience divinity”, a sparkling bright round of chants breaks through the anguish – “I’ve been searching the sky for you, give me a sign, I’m not willing to die for you, give me a sign”. And I must say, with how much I was bopping along to all the tracks on this album, I’ll be the first to renounce all holy restraints, step into the pentagram and follow this band right down the path towards earthly self-fulfilment.
In ‘Darkness Visible,’ Sunset Junkies have created a masterful work of progressive metal that is timeless and stands out in an increasingly crowded genre. By seamlessly interweaving a myriad of stylistic influences spanning several decades in music, this album combines retro charm with highly innovative and modern prog songwriting to convey a distinctive sound that is entirely Sunset Junkies’ own. I can honestly say I have not heard its like here in Australia, or beyond for that matter. The sheer originality and polished yet daring composition demonstrated on ‘Darkness Visible’ is what sets this band apart from its peers. It’s a bewitching listen from start to finish – don’t be surprised if by the end of the album, you feel the urge to don your black cloak, light some incense and whisper incantations under your breath.
‘Darkness Visible’ releases through Wild Thing Records on December 10, 2021.
Pre-order the album HERE
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With thanks to Overdrive PR