Music Reviews

Totem, by White Suns

Totem Cover So White Suns plug in, and, hearing them, it, on record, you might be inclined to think that apocalypse is simply not enough for these guys.

The sound of this Brooklyn-based three-piece is characterized by its high volume, aberrant noise, uncommon patience and staggering power. Now after a decade of experimentation and a handful of releases, comes Totem (2014).

Like a volcano, the songs on Totem are sometimes propulsive, other times eerily stagnant. However, whether exploding upon release (“Clairvoyant”), or popping and hissing in electronic mire (“Prostrate”), all of Totem is affected by a miasmic energy that rends identifiable song structures with jagged breaks, flat-line gaps of black silence, concussive noise, staggering halts and sulfurous instrumentation. Melee swells under each note; song is “cleansed by fire”; noise engulfs noise, plangent tones inspire unrest.

Not only disquieting, some of the tones heard on this album are painstakingly frightening. Try “Cathexis,” a clarion call of warning mutilated by sludgy strings under extreme duress, propelled by an unforgiving backbeat and ear-shredding squawks of white-hot noise. Elsewhere, the opening notes of opener “Priest in the Laboratory” connote the image of a Utahraptor’s sickle-slash across the blaring maw of a fiery speaker for a metallic screech without equal in effect and intensity.

Many of the tracks on Totem sound as if they’ve been ignited, rather than structured, with the power of all players in unison unleashing a sonic maelstrom on eardrums challenged by variegated frequencies. The pestilential unity of White Suns that closes anchors “Cathexis,” “Clairvoyant” and “Carrion” con brio, peppers the wandering discomfort of the album’s instrumentals (fragmentary fugues “Disjecta Membra,” “Fossil Record” and “Line of Smoke”) by making appendages out of them and consequently deepening Totem’s fury.

There is in fact a group of artists behind Totem able to summon and deliver a tempest of quaking noise within a form of song bearing their own stamp—when the time comes, of course. And that’s part of what makes this album so great—not only the ability to unleash such thunderous noise, but the wherewithal and artistic discipline of knowing when and how to do so to achieve a truly awesome effect. It is this same charming quality of White Suns’ songwriting that made Sinews both refreshing and interesting in the world of noise rock.

With “Clairvoyant,” White Suns hearken back to their effectively haunting use of patience and power for great effect. A stand-alone piece, one can experience the range of sound on Totem in just a shade over five minutes, should you care to test the waters by sampling this track before taking the plunge. Though, you are strongly advised to experience the album in its entirety.

The sum total experience of Totem might be likened to feelings derived from surveying the morning after an oceanic oil spill—the mess, pollution, blackness, decay, poison; the frustration with man nonpareil. Though sometimes it’s just this very face-to-face confrontation with such telluric darkness that can, and often does, inspire intense feeling and energy to recover and improve.