It is a depressing paradox that, for a genre which started off in such incendiary, challenging fashion, black metal is now often one of the most musically conservative of genres, weighed down by insipid songs about Satan full of uninspired tremolo-picking and blasts. It’s this context which makes the emergence of a band like 夢遊病者 (Sleepwalker) all the more inspiring. The debut album from this multinational band, 5772, is a bewildering, awe-inspiring journey that, whilst owing a considerable debt to both raw and progressive black metal, also draws heavily full sources such as improvisational jazz and krautrock, as well as the violent energy of bands like G.I.S.M. As this might imply, it is a unique listen, and one of the more intriguing black metal releases of 2017.
Despite the vast array of influences on display at various points throughout 5772, Sleepwalker have somehow managed to keep the album relatively accessible. Part of this is down to the fairly concise song lengths – no track is longer than four minutes – and also the way that the high levels of energy often on display provide an immediate thrill. Likewise, many of the melodies are nakedly emotional, and they give the listener something concrete to latch on to even as they go on maze-like runs that are equal parts King Crimson and Voivod.
Yet 5772 also contains a wealth of depth, with each track possessing its own identity and details to explore, whether that be the unsettling opener ‘Empty Urns’; the restlessness of ‘Plain Wood’ which is something like if Sigh tried to write a King Diamond tribute; or the combination of DSBM and 70s Japanese psychedelica of ‘No Flowers’, which is my pick of the six tracks on 5772. What’s also notable is that, despite their sound consisting of such a huge variety of influences and different aspects, Sleepwalker ensure that their sound is firmly rooted within a black metal mindset and paradigm, as nihilistic as it is cathartic, as bleak as it is invigorating.
All of which would suggest an album full of contrary forces – which is, to some extent, correct. Yet it’s to Sleepwalker’s credit that they maintain full control over all these aspects, and that 5772 never sounds like an album that is slipping away from the control of its creators. Added to all of this is a very real emotional catharsis, that transcends the bleakness which grounds the album. Despite running for only 21 minutes, 5772 is packed with such depth and power that it feels much longer, and it is easy to lose hours at a time exploring the maze it conjures. On every level, it is a work of incredible vision, and one of the highlights of black metal for 2017.