Sum Of R - Lahbryce (Cover Artwork)

Sum Of R

Lahbryce (2022)

Consouling Sounds

Sum of R are maybe the epitome of what is sometimes described as ‘a Roadburn band’. This refers to the festival of the same name and if you’re not familiar with it, then it’s characterised by challenging, avant-garde and often, heavy music. Sum of R are all three of these things. The main difference this time around (Sum of R has been around since 2008 in one guise or another, driven by musical mastermind, Reto Mäder) is that a full band now exists to house and recreate the music which Sum of R have brought into being. I did use the word ‘songs’ initially in that last sentence before realising what an odd noun it would be to describe the output of Sum of R, even though in the case of this record, it is at least more accurate than it may have been before.

This is a taxing record in many ways. It runs to well over 50 minutes and I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as whizzing by, either. The musical canvas is one of significant dynamics, but consistent unease. The quieter passages are unnerving. The loudest moments, overwhelming. The voyages between the two are at times equally uncomfortable. The level of necessary engagement is maybe what, at times, makes the record feel taxing. Depending on your disposition that might be something that makes this record alluring or not. To be as clear as I can, this record is a sort of drone/doom, post-metal hybrid with vocals that span styles as diverse as Lingua Ignota-esque pained, neo-classicist, emotive wails to shamanistic, acid-nightmare warbling. It’s very much an exercise in vocal methods of disturbance. It’s certainly effective, but how much you’ll long for more of it depends on your tastes. Or tolerance, possibly. Speaking of which, there are also various avant-garde flourishes. Some of which work, but by no means all of them.

I maybe would have felt I was simply being resistant to this particular art form in the past, but having listened to a lot of post-metal and music towards the avant-garde end of the spectrum in the last few years, then this not only makes a lot of sense to me, but I enjoy a lot of what’s being offered up. the problem is this, however. As I’ve listened to a lot that broadly lives in the same world as this, I’ve listened to some of the best there is to offer. Just in the last couple of months you have the new Cult Of Luna record, for example. In the last few years there were records from King Woman, Oranssi Pazuzu, Amenra, Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou, Celeste and more. This record sadly feels like it has less to offer than any of those. I also don’t feel the character of the musicians in the same way as I do in those other examples. Ironically, it may be the diversity of vocal approach that diminishes that sense of character, yet I absolutely applaud the variety of styles Marko Neuman is capable of. At times I feel like I’m listening to a doom-based reimagining of Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator soundtrack, and I’m not even going to pretend that I don’t enjoy that. The thing that I enjoy less is the often glacial pace of the songs that I appreciate is a hallmark of Sum Of R’s (and many other acts in the drone/psychedelic spectrum) sound, but with often not a huge amount going on, it can feel ponderous. Also, there are a few points (the end of “144th” springs to mind) where the synth work does feel almost like it might have been a guest spot by Ross Geller.

I can listen to about half of this record and have a lovely time. But sadly, there are also several songs that either end up making me zone out, or where I find some of the musical or percussive decisions at best baffling and at worst, annoying. When it gets it right, then it does that thing incredibly well. At those points, it feels gargantuan, ominous, even terrifying. And that’s not easy to do. I know the band are playing this record in its entirety at Roadburn later this year. I imagine that not only will it be quite an experience to see these songs performed live, but as I mentioned earlier, that festival and scene is undoubtably Sum Of R’s home turf, so to speak. This record maybe a bridge too far for some people. But for the Roadburn faithful? Sum Of R will be preaching to the choir and that feels like a strangely apt turn of phrase in this context.