Amun - Spectra And Obsession (Self-released)

This year has been replete with longform records from established figures in underground metal. Between Sól án varma’s collective of Icelandic mystics and Mutant favourite Asthâghul’s middle finger to fickle curmudgeons, it feels like big and operatic is back in vogue.

More exciting, perhaps, this trend isn’t for proven scenesters alone. The Ohioan dreamers in Amun have been flying under the radar for five years, forging their own legend of progressive black metal (BM) behind the scenes. This formidable sophomore effort, Spectra And Obsession, appears unfortunately to be their last, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t layered the glitching resonances of their “electro-organic death music” and left listeners with a genuine epic. Amun’s members each hail from disparate musical backwoods, but they’ve leveraged this diversity to romanticize BM’s vast gothic soundscapes, resulting in a work of art not only coherent but fiercely ambitious.

Relying on BM’s ability to swerve into a multitude of sonic left-turns, Spectra And Obsession offers a cinematic experience that jump-cuts between bağlamas, didgeridoos, and tongue drums. Fittingly, the LP boasts the runtime of a full-blown feature film, outstaying even the magniloquent saga of Kayo Dot’s Hubardo. Beginning with a ten-minute overture themselves, Amun embark on a modern Space Odyssey of symphonic drama. Stanley Kubrick’s silver-screen psychedelia would indeed make a perfect complement to Amun’s novel assortment of Phrygian incantations and remorselessly groovy thrash chants, rubbing shoulders with their well-established mid-range howls.

The Midwesterners nip at the heels of Norway’s veteran cosmonauts Dødheimsgard in trading common deal-breakers like electronic intermissions and clean-sung motifs, all the while delivering a latin melodicism that smacks of The Mars Volta. In fact, the album wears a love of the El Paso goliaths proudly on its sleeve, successfully imitating their stuttering vocoder action, mellow acoustic breaks, and generally virtuosic instrumental legerdemain. Moreso, the hyperballad of “A Sickly Fruit Born of Tragic Love” reaches crescendo with a full-ensemble outburst that’s as authentic as the ear-ripping climax to “Luciforms”.

One interesting pattern throughout the album is how the length of songs scales with their quality. Whether in the title track’s twenty-minute escalation into a Star Wars battle scene, or in how “Sickly Fruit…” clocks in at over half an hour, Amun’s colossi somehow feel like they can pass by in the bat of an eye. Such a claim can’t be made even by renowned East Coast prog rockers, Between the Buried and Me (BTBAM). Despite their shared hardcore roots and the haunting similarity between the bands’ overall sonic palettes, Spectra reveals the poverty of imagination haunting their more celebrated stylistic siblings. While Amun revel in similar post-y textures and dramatic crooning, their curvy and propulsive structures put BTBAM’s extensive but repetitive merry-go-rounds to shame. After all, Amun possess that which all the synth cadenzas and polka breaks in the world cannot replace—a driving sense of narrative.

Ultimately, the case of Amun is one of contradictions. Their blackened bombast promised a discography worth of potential when they burst onto the scene and yet, in the moment after, they’re gone without a sound. They tinker with layered and translucent production choices—juggling single melodies between numerous synth and guitar tracks—but still avoid industrial tropes. And, most notably, the band’s vicious and lethargic tone brings out a magnificent tension with their lyrical positivity. Because Spectra And Obsession is no thunder without rain, it’s a benevolent love letter to bandcamp’s wretched and self-loathing masses: We’re not alone, there are dozens of us!