The previous Sunwølf album, Beholden To Nothing And No One, was – artistically speaking – huge. An emotionally intense double album packed full of ideas, it was one of 2014’s stand-out records. New album Eve strips things back slightly, clocking in at a relatively concise 50 minutes, but it’s no less impressive – in some ways, it’s even more successful than Behold To Nothing… was. The Neurosis-esque, crushingly heavy post-metal moments have been stripped back, revealing an album of beauty and grace that, whilst undeniably gorgeous in large part, also has an undercurrent of darkness and deep melancholy. Yet there are also moments that verge upon the redemptive, and a sense of journey and catharsis that is profoundly personal and strong; and it would not surprise me at all if it ends up being considered one of 2016’s best releases.
Falling in that sweet spot between early Mogwai and later-day Earth, Eve is an album full of open spaces, where clear guitars paint a landscape that is simultaneously inviting and bleak. By stripping back more of the more musically heavy and intense parts of their sound, Sunwølf have instead presented the listener with a (largely instrumental) sonic landscape in which to explore. Built upon sparse drumming, clean guitars, and a clever use of space, it’s hard not to be impressed by the scope of what the band have offered; much like the albums of post-reformation Earth, there is an incredible depth to sink in to and lose yourself. Whilst meaning is hinted at from the song titles – for example, “Sun Of My Soul”, “Frontier”, and “Brother” – it is largely left to the listener to find their own interpretation of what Sunwølf are saying.
Not that Eve is a one-trick pony, however. Third track “Quell” is strongly reminiscent of various parts of Mogwai’s Young Team album, with small melodies over strummed chords and spoken vocals in the background that comes to life explosively for its later half. Following track “Haar” is one of the most adventurous songs Sunwølf have put out, with an almost My Bloody Valentine feel mixed with vicious vocals – it’s feels like the kind of song Deafheaven would write if they ever let themselves abandon any ideas of being a metal band.
Impressively for an album of this nature – being so melancholy and spacious – it never feels as long as it actually is. Each song (and the album as a hold) takes you away from whatever physical environment you find yourself in, transporting you to somewhere where time holds little meaning and the world moves at a different pace. This is especially true of the later half of the album, aided by the clever use of repeated and subtly altered melodies and patterns, producing an effect that is almost hypnotic. It’s very easy to find yourself listening to Eve over and over on repeat, with hours slipping by without your being aware of it.
My first inclination upon spending time with Eve was to feel that it was a massive downer, its sparse, contemplative nature as good as ensuring that it would bring any listener’s mood down. And sure, there’s no denying that Eve is drenched in melancholy, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a negative listening experience. Instead, the key word is one I just used – contemplative. The largely instrumental nature of the album lends itself to reflection, and how you emotionally react to the album may well depend upon how you respond to 50 minutes of music that lends itself to making you assess your life’s choices, and possibly coming up with some uncomfortable answers. But if you can stare in to that abyss and stand up to the soul-searching that it causes, then you’ll find something remarkably cathartic and cleansing here. It’s certainly an album designed for solitude (and preferably headphones, late at night, with no distractions), but that doesn’t mean it has to be something negative or sorrowful. It’s all about how you respond to such an environment, and answer the questions it asks.
Of course, this is just my reading of what Eve is as an album; with an album that feels this intensely personal and pure, it’s quite possible – and perfectly valid – for a listener to have any number of responses to it. The only way to be sure how you’ll react to the wonders of Eve is to allow yourself to be immersed in them, taking the journey and coming out the other side. It’s an experience that I highly recommend.