The high altitude hits you briskly in the face as forces of nature surround you in calm serene tranquility. The atmospheric mountain scenery smells of uninhibited fresh air with the embrace of an acoustic folky kiss and elevated breath combined with dark, rigid black metal. Screams rip and tear out from the darkest hole of the forest after midnight.
These are the sounds and sensations of Suldusk’s debut Lunar Falls, escalating aura-inducing acoustic highs with guttural ground level growls, merging folk, darkgaze and black metal into the same beautiful macabre brew. It’s Opeth fronted by the dark side of Enya with folk flavor, and it’s as haunting as an acoustic guitar can sound.
The video for first single Aphasia is a mix of scenic landscapes, dark campfire shadows, spiritual forest pathways and singing through the rainy looking glass. It is an inspirational piece of dark poetry with mixed spiritual energy and deep discovery through personal introspection.
Though the shoot for Aphasia was hectic and intense, it had its post-production rewards, “It was a lot of fun to make that, a lot of images stuck with me,” Highfield remembers. “It was great to have a team to realize those images, the feelings they created and see it realized.”
The spiritual imagery tells the story of the main character discovering her dark side, finding self-honesty in a healthy way and accepting our human condition as we individually are. “We got in trouble for setting up the fire,” Highfield recalls. “Even though I got permits and everything, I was told the next day we hadn’t put it out properly apparently.” Highfield eventually smoothed things over.
The pentagram on her acoustic guitar has sparked curiosity and controversy, “It’s an old guitar. A pentagram’s kinda misunderstood,” she explains. “I’m not Pagan or Wiccan.” Though she embraces the season-based nature oriented principles of life and death, “The pentagram to me is just a nature reference to the elements. A lot of people think it’s satanic.” She’s received YouTube comments about being a Satanist or a witch, which she laughs off as uneducated banter.
They filmed in Victoria, Australia in Don Valley and the Yarra River, inspired by the water and scenic energy. “It was very much an outdoor shoot but you’re subject to the elements. You wanted to get the shot in before sundown. Or capturing the sun flares on a gloomy day. We did night shots as well. I wanted it to be light and dark, not just one kind of vibe.”
Their sound has received many Opeth comparisons. “That’s a massive, huge compliment. People say there’s an affinity between the acoustic stuff I do and Damnation era Opeth. To be uttered in the same description as them is very humbling. Åkerfeldt’s cleans are beautiful and the growls are from the bowls of hell. He’s got that range. I’m totally in awe of him.”
Suldusk has also been compared to Hayung and Swallow the Sun. “I don’t mind being pooled with those amazing artists. I think they evoke a very similar feeling.”
Their sound is very ethereal like dark gaze with teeth. She needed an element of reality planted in the mix to ground down the sound; hence the harsh vocals and distortion. “It needed to be there.”
The album cover is a combination of a real photo and digitization inspired by nature and Nordic mythology. “I saw it and thought, wow. It speaks to the person who’s embarking on a journey of solace and self-understanding, retreating into nature to get space and understanding of their place in the world. People think it’s me but it’s another model. It creates a suitable feeling reflecting the albums feeling.” Highfield thinks the artwork creates a visual feeling of going somewhere though it’s not for everyone.
She wanted to fully realize the songs tapping into more atmospheric black metal elements combined with shoegaze. “A distorted vocal I guess you’d call it. That’s something that blackgaze and atmospheric black metal use a lot.” She liked the dissonant distorted guitars in the background. “That’s something I’d love to do on the next album, a more extreme sound and less dark acoustic stuff.”
The final track Sovran Shrines will lead into the next album. Highfield says the track has multiple sections starting with an eclectic folk sound with laid back slower paced parts. “It’s about acceptance really,” she explains. “Accepting your position, getting some backbone, affirming yourself and place. Knowing no matter what shit is thrown at you there’s always a sacredness within you, a strength in all of you to survive and thrive but it’s hard to get to that place. Not many people can do that. It’s very empowering. It’s metal for life for me. I love Enya and ambient music, but metal for me is a go to place in space. It’s an attitude. It needed to come out and there it was.”
Some of her recorded screams made people uncomfortable, even the producer. “He’d kind of look at me and say, ‘You’re not afraid to get ugly’. I said no, because life can be like that. It’s not all pretty and soothing. It made him a bit uncomfortable and I knew I was on the right track.”
Women doing harsh vocals isn’t the novelty it once was. She’s a fan of Jinjer, incorporating clean and guttural screams along with Angela Gossow and Alissa White-Gluz. “Angela was a trail blazer. It’s good to explore all vocal archetypes.”
She’s taken her past thrash experience, training her voice for death metal screams while keeping the integrity and clarity of her clean vocals. She’s improved with guidance but it’s still a work in progress. “After I finished recording, I thought, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve done. The different vocal styles, I was expressing. It’s a good start. Some people are naturally freaky and amazing. It comes with practice. You gotta keep doing it. People can tell if you’re being disingenuous.”
She would immediately volunteer to support Opeth, “I’ll put my hand up there. There’s a few bands coming to Australia we’re lucky enough to be supporting as an acoustic ensemble but I’m working on a bigger sound at the moment.”
They’ve shared stages with Cradle of Filth’s, Lindsay Schoolcraft, “She’s a lovely person. Her voice is very inspiring. We’ve been supporting a band called Eluveitie, a very big folk metal band.”
Ultimately three guitars will be in the lineup. “I’m picking up my electric and having fun recreating Lunar Falls live.” By years end she hopes to be warming stages for touring bands, going overseas is in the long term agenda but nothing solid yet.
As for the US, the black metal and dark folk elements of Wyoming’s Fire in the Mountains Festival is very attractive to her, “The audience would be receptive.” She doesn’t want to do a small venue tour. “I’d rather wait and be invited to something the organizers think would work. The same applies to Europe.” She’ll start writing again end of the year or beginning 2020. “I’m not in a rush to tour at this stage. It depends were the demand is.” They’ve been busy sending out the album in vinyl, digipak and cassette. “America took up at least half the orders.” They’ve gotten interest from New York, California and middle-America. “I’m gonna leave it up to the universe to see how that shapes out.”
They’ve filmed studio recorded performances of Three Rivers and The Elm for YouTube but won’t have another video clip till the next record.
Highfield heard a song called Sinking Ships by Trees of Eternity, recording The Elm as a tribute, “I remember hearing [Aleah Stanbridge’s] voice with such a soft, gently executed vocal. It inspired me. When I realized she’d passed away. It broke my heart. She never had the chance to see how her music inspired people. In my studio when things got challenging I’d look at her and remember her legacy, musicality it would inspire me to keep going.
She got permission to record it. “The chords are the same. The arrangement is similar. Not a cover but not an original. Some people love it and some think it’s a desecration. I’m definitely honoring her. As soon as you put yourself out there. There’s gonna be haters.”
Highfield’s music is very niche and she’s been quite overwhelmed by the response. Though there are heavy parts in the songs, there might not be a mosh pit with an acoustic in the room, but headbanging could happen. “I’m very excited to write more stuff.”
Lunar Falls is currently available.
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