Album/EP Review | Sunnata | Burning in Heaven, Melting on Earth

Sunnata, a four-piece from Poland, has dropped one of the most interesting metal albums I have heard this year titled Burning in Heaven, Melting on Earth. Although Spotify has this album classified as an EP, it is listed as a full-length on the Metal Archives, and at 45 minutes long, I’m not sure if ‘EP’ is a fitting tag to match the epicness of this release. This is the fourth album from the Warsaw-based act and has been the album I have spent the most time listening to this year. I have perused their content before but never felt hooked into one of their releases as much as this one, so much so that I am compelled to go back and explore their other work more deeply.

The record is full of doom metal sensibilities, but with a fair amount of meditative and psychedelic chill sections that lean towards psych rock at times while harboring hints of OM. The album is full of contrast and this contrast is part of what gives this album its appeal. The music draws us in with softer, more melodic sections before unleashing a wave of dirt into our ears in the heavier ones. The album tends towards the progressive, complete with long lead sections, long songs, and some mild genre-bending, but also manages to be memorable while still being mildly unpredictable. The name of the band does the most for describing the essence of their sound. Sunnata is a Sanskrit word for ‘void’ and much of the music has a beautiful yet slightly unsettling quality, like the come up after taking an extremely large dose of psychedelics.

“Crow” sets the tone of the album. Rumbling pedaled bass is the first thing we hear and it’s shortly joined by drums filling out the spaces and turning the beat into a two-over-three polyrhythm. Modulated guitar chimes mysteriously, expectantly over the ritualistic groove, which creates a modal feel in the harmony. As the vocals enter, the tone immediately catches my ear. The vocalist has a unique accent that provides his voice with a twang of sorts, but the pitching, technique, and strength of tone are all superb. I find I generally prefer to hear music with accents that are not the usual American or British imitation; this provides the music with more character and appeal. The mood of the backing and vocals slowly builds in intensity, like a fire that swells from kindling into a roaring blaze. Suddenly, we are left falling into the sky as the sound reaches a sustain. It is as if one had been fired from a catapult into the sky and had reached the apex of flight, hanging in the air as if for an eternity… before we begin to hurtle down to Earth, screaming in a blaze of green fire, diving deep into the planet’s core. This is the visual that comes to me as the song transitions into the heavier section we hear following the intro. The second time around, we are not even offered the respite of sustain before being flung into the depths of hell. The screams in this section are animalistic, even pained, but fantastically delivered. The song then moves into a chorus although only repeating twice, almost back to back bar a solo. The quality of this section reminds me slightly of grunge but instantly makes me realise it isn’t when the epic lead starts melting my face.

By title alone, “God Emperor of Dune” is already right up my alley. The music is suitably desert-themed, rolling with subby harmonic minor bass lines, tambourine, and chant-like vocals that draw us into a trippy groove. I particularly love the vocals we hear in the background that seem to sing in response to the lead vocals, like a group of mystics praying as the sound drifts across the vastness of the desert and is lost in space. This song is repetitive but never boring, as the music once again builds like a tumefying sandstorm. Halfway through the piece, the drums start hitting harder while delayed guitar ripples and ebbs on top of the mix. The song has so much dynamic, starting softly and building to such great heights with swells and dips that show a mastery of mood. At six minutes the drums kick into another polyrhythmic groove, but only briefly before bringing the texture all the way back down again. This time it never builds back up and slowly winds down, leaving only a light breeze.

“A Million Lives” starts us with a very similar vibe to the previous track, but quickly gets a lot more rock ‘n roll. This track reminds me of old Hawkwind but with darker and more modern sensibilities. The rhythmic vocals are initially a little unexpected but quickly become infectious. The middle section dips in instrumentation and dynamics, though we hear a new element enter: intricate, wailing female vocals performed by Alia Fay, which glide beautifully over the gradual building sound of battered drums, riffs, and dissonant leads. The instruments build to a cacophony before ringing out into the night sky.

“Black Serpent” is one of the heavier tracks on the album, bringing back that dirty sludge from earlier. I am once again awed by the power of the screamed vocals. The track also has a great middle section, which takes the tempo up and makes use of more trippy layered vocals. Something about this section reminds me of a band I listened to many moons ago called Kings of Frog Island.

Although I would describe the rest of the album to follow similar trends, in general, each song has something unique and memorable about it. I will say that the album did take some time to grow on me as most of the best ones do, but as a final word, I would classify this album as a certified banger. I am adamant this is one of the coolest new doom releases out now. So, what are you waiting for? Go check it out!

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You can grab a digital copy of Burning in Heaven, Melting on Earth over on the Sunnata Bandcamp page as well as vinyl, CDs, shirts, and other merch. You can also listen to it over on Spotify.

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