A punishing noise artist in search of new sounds journeyed to Japan, where they encountered a local who crafts music similar in timbre and insanity. The musicians bond, learn and roar back to North America with new found wisdom and sonic weapons. Oddly enough this isn’t the new Tim Hecker record, though Konoyo and Sumac’s Love in Shadow have eerily similar backstories. While Hecker was getting haunted by the Tokyo Gakuso, Sumac’s power trio teamed up with Chiba-based free improvisation artist Keiji Haino. Haino and Sumac’s excellently titled American Dollar Bill – Keep Facing Sideways, You’re Too Hideous to Look At Face On came out just this year, but already the post-metal thrashers are back for more.

With their pedigree (Aaron Turner was in ISIS, Brian Cook is in Russian Circles and Nick Yacyshyn drummed in Baptists), it’s no surprise that Sumac go for the high-minded rather than the basic, even as their music descends into sheer chaos. But even for them, Love in Shadow is grand. As the title implies, Sumac are exploring different shades of love. They’ve been vociferous in their denouncement of love as conquest that’s so often trotted out by rock bands. Instead, the album offers a series of character studies about love on a deeper level: The love of friendship and familial ties, yes, but also the love that’s corrupted into envy and addiction.

It’s a big task that Sumac honor with a mammoth album that may be\only four songs long, but its shortest track clocks in at 12 minutes. That’s Haino’s influence showing, as under the direction of Converge’s Kurt Ballou, Sumac recorded Love in Shadow live with a strong focus on improvisation. It shows, mostly for the better. Cook is the steady weight holding the more esoteric sounds firmly in the pocket, but the real draw above his thudding notes is the interplay between Yacyshyn and Turner. Turner flips from harrowing screams to abyssal groans, allowing his guitar to fill in the frequencies between, giving it a satisfyingly crunchy tone. Yacyshyn feeds off of this, not quite going into a full caveman stomp, but there are times where he appears to be punching his drums rather than playing them.

Though the run times might be daunting, there are sections reminiscent of Baptists’ rapid-fire sludge. The opening bit of “Attis’ Blade” brings to mind less of a mosh and more of a man-sized blender being turned on. It’s also strangely beautiful by turns. The final moments of “Arcing Silver” do have an avalanche of drums clattering down, but Turner and Cook’s interplay recalls the more atmospheric moments of ISIS, swirling out into the void. And while the climax of closer “Ecstasy of Unbecoming” won’t be making the pop charts, its wild rush to the finish is one of the most thrilling moments in metal this year.

Love in Shadow, despite its sound and title, expresses some hope in its exploration of humanity’s greatest feeling. In the midst of the gloom, Turner howls about finding “Our better blood” somewhere out there in the chaos. This trio is obviously having the time of their lives, even while playing music so doomy. Much like Hecker’s own romantic voyage on Love Streams, Sumac have reached into the ugly and crafted something gorgeous.

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