Very little is known about SAULT. The group may be a trio, and they are much more about “show” than “tell”. The band revealed the bare minimum to the public when they appeared on the scene, seemingly out of nowhere, with two albums in 2019. Besides their band name, album name, and song titles, there’s next to no information available. Eventually, listeners are led to the names of multi-instrumentalist/producer Inflo, singer/songwriter Cleo Sol, and rapper Melissa Young (Kid Sister).
SAULT are most likely a London based band, as both Inflo and Cleo Sol are Londoners. Inflo has worked on recent high-quality British albums such as Grey Area (Little Simz) and Love & Hate (Michael Kiwanuka). He also produced Cleo Sol’s sublime debut album, Rose in the Dark. The role of Young in SAULT is arguably the most curious revelation, as she is best known for a brand of pop-rap that is radically different from her empowering spoken word on UNTITLED (Black Is).
Young’s poem on album opener “Out the Lies” ends with “when everything else fails, Black endures”. This, in tandem with the black fist of the album cover, could be viewed as SAULT’s album thesis statement. UNTITLED (Black Is) is an impactful and wonderfully sequenced collection of pro-Black music. One could call it a soundtrack to the current worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, but that would be horribly reductionist. Anti-Blackness and systemic racism are constants. The content that drives this record has been painfully relevant for far longer than any of SAULT’s musicians have been alive. UNTITLED (Black Is) centers itself around Blackness by way of expressions of determination, strife, and resistance.
SAULT can be stern and minimalist to great effect. A combination of firm drums and warbled keys fills “Stop Dem” with a hypnotic urgency. Unwavering chants (“Even though we know that you fear us (stop dem) / That ain’t no reason to kill us”) make the song a vigorous protest anthem. “Don’t Shoot Guns Down” has a similar sparse palette with an even stronger groove. A mantra of “Don’t shoot, guns down / Racist policeman” is delivered over sirens, deep bass, and organic percussion. The potent simplicity of the rhythm makes it hard not to nod along.
Mesmerizing stripped-down environments are crucial to the strength of UNTITLED (Black Is), but SAULT are equally capable with lusher soundscapes. “Hard Life” is an example of the beauty the group can conjure up in a more fleshed-out sound. “Hard Life” begins spaciously, with tight drumming and bass accompanying Cleo Sol’s beautiful voice. The second half of the song bursts open with a wave of euphoric singing, warm keys, and bass that completely change the mood. “Sorry Ain’t Enough” is a brilliant somber number with another impressive switch up in the introduction of driving percussion in its chorus. Drenched in melancholic synths and keys, vocals that fade in and out of the mix give the song a gorgeous conclusion.
Be it because of the lyrics or the instrumental style, the influence of Black history as a whole is omnipresent in UNTITLED (Black Is). That is evident in “Bow”, an Afrobeat romp that features Michael Kiwanuka. It’s a ridiculously fun Pan-African liberation tune with references to African countries and modern liberation oriented figures such as Uganda’s Bobbi Wine. “Wildfires” captures a different brand of energy but is no less impressive. With lovely singing from Cleo Sol, SAULT use the imagery of wildfire to portray the state of being Black. The band make their point clear: despite a seemingly endless supply of anti-blackness and systemic racism, Black people have never completely faltered and continue to protest the injustice. “Wildfires” is a compelling ode to Black resilience.
UNTITLED (Black Is) is captivating from start to finish. It’s a moving album, with radiant moments like “Eternal Life” being the aural representation of the joy of being Black. “Miracles” is similarly inspiring, boasting an old-school soulful atmosphere with a powerful message of unwavering hope. This is a stellar, uplifting record informed by timeless struggle, solidarity, and pride.