Music

Sannhet: So Numb

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Without changing their identity, Sannhet travels deep within their core to further progress their unclassifiable sound on So Numb.


Sannhet

So Numb

Label: Profound Lore
US Release Date: 2017-08-25
UK Release Date: 2017-08-25
Artist Website
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Instrumental Brooklyn-based trio Sannhet has been on a fiery course since the release of their excellent debut, Known Flood, back in 2013. While they did not aimlessly expand their sound in the works that followed, they still allowed a different side of their entity to come into the light. That was the case with their sophomore full-length, 2015's Revisionist, which offered a different take on the post-rock/sludge/black metal hybrid. Moving further away from the harsher and edgier quality of Known Flood, the band stepped with confidence into the melodic side.

So Numb taps with even more certainty into that melodic element, presenting a mellower mode and a more well-rounded presentation. It comes down to how Sannhet's production has changed over the years, as well as how having Peter Katis at the helm has helped the band explore a more intimate representation of their identity. Given that Katis is known for his work with alternative and indie bands (Interpol, the Twilight Sad, and Frightened Rabbit), his presence and experience acted as catalysts for Sannhet's sonic development.

Sannhet was always a melodic band, but So Numb takes this factor to another level. The title track brilliantly displays this behavior, revealing some of the most hook-filled work the band has ever produced. The phrasing is moving, and the underlying emotional quality comes alive through the progression. In an instrumental record -- where the only weapons in the arsenal of the artist are their melody, rhythm, atmosphere, and sonic creativity -- it's essential to be able to communicate with the listener on a more basic level, finding emotion in the sound rather than the words. That is an inherently difficult task, but through the high verbosity of their riff-based approach, the trio awakens a plethora of diverse moods throughout this work, from sadness and melancholy (which was a constant in their previous work) to a cathartic and ultimately peaceful characteristic. “Secondary Arrows” travels the whole range of that spectrum, balancing sadness and hopefulness to reach a moment of solace before retreating into tranquility.

So Numb is a record of energy, and that is something contradictory to the post-metal dimension, which usually takes a more passive form. But from the very start of the album (with “Indigo Illusion”), the band appears active and engaged, putting the pedal down and running with the groove and riffs in tracks like “Sleep Well”. Despite this urge to action, Sannhet displays a more patient outlook than they previously had. Ideas appear more thoroughly configured and the structures are more solid and less elusive than on the past two records. The band methodically explores their ideas, allowing them to flourish over time and discover all that they offer. This is especially apparent in the longer tracks, like “Fernbeds”.

Sannhet was always an unclassifiable act, not so much in that the different components of their sound did not make sense or were completely novel, but in how they molded them together to blur genre lines. This is particularly true when it comes to their treatment of post-metal and black metal, with the two styles becoming a singularity through Sannhet's kaleidoscope. Finding the shared elements of atmosphere and ritualism, a track like “Salts” begins in an almost Wolves in the Throne Room-like fashion, with a slight folkish take and a desolate narrative before the grand post-metal melodies swoop in. On the other end, this meeting of philosophies appears in harsher moments; for instance, “Sapphire” finds ethereal melodies meeting dissonance states of confrontation, while "Way Out” sees the band exploring a more animalistic side, applying the full extent of extreme metal with blastbeats and an aggressive perspective.

The group claims that So Numb is a record dealing with the concept of false safety, an idea that's even depicted on the album cover, where a mother tries to shield her child's eyes, creating the illusion of a safe space. Listening to the album, you feel like Sannhet rejects that notion of living inside a bubble -- an illusory world -- and instead meditates on life's imperfect escapes. Their eyes are wide open to all the pains of life, but also the joys that come alongside them, and that is why So Numb feels like such a complete work. It does not conceal anything, bad or good.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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