1. As The Sun Sets - Each Individual Voice is Dead in the Silence
What happens when the sun sets?
Night falls, and all the monsters come out.
We’ve been talking darkness. Come face to face with it. This is the ugliest side of metalcore, where acts like Destroyer Destroyer, December, and the Sawtooth Grin come crawling out of the sludge: the pallid faces in the window, the capering ghouls, the blood on the walls and the broken teeth. Album titles don’t get much more telling than Each Individual Voice is Dead in the Silence, as just about every extreme voice in metal - black, death, and grind most prominently - cries out amid the toxic sounds of As The Sun Sets’s debut. Although the album features a number of creepy excerpts from Jacob’s Ladder, what always comes to mind when I put this album on is ’Salem’s Lot: both the 1971 movie’s depiction of the vampire Kurt Barlow, and a specific passage from the novel, which I’ve alluded to:
His hand found the paperweight - the glass globe that had been with him since his boyhood in his nighted town - grabbed unknowing in a dreamlike visit to a monster's house. Shake it up and watch the snow float down.
He did it now, holding it up before his eyes as he had as a boy, and it did its old, old trick. Through the floating snow you could see a little gingerbread house with a path leading up to it. The gingerbread shutters were closed, but as an imaginative boy (as Mark Petrie was now), you could fancy that one of the shutters was being folded back (as indeed, one of them seemed to be folding back now) by a long white hand, and then a pallid face would be looking out at you, grinning with long teeth, inviting you into this house beyond the world in its slow and endless fantasy-land of false snow, where time was a myth. The face was looking out at him now, pallid and hungry, a face that would never look on daylight or blue skies again.
In the film version of ’Salem’s Lot, Barlow’s design evokes F.W. Murnau’s Count Orlok in a conscious rejection of the sophisticates of more recent vampire outings. The novel’s Barlow is actually one of these types, but rather than swept-back hair, “full, sensual lips,” and a “heavy mustache,” the miniseries opts for a hairless, death-white bat-thing incapable of closing its mouth around its overgrown fangs. A yellow-eyed, old-world abomination. So, too, do As The Sun Sets invoke older, uglier ancestors: with its unmistakable tremolo-picked riffs, relentless blastbeats, and an overwhelming atmosphere of dread, Each Individual Voice frequently treads black metal waters and seems hellbent on dragging the listener down into its neurotic depths. Clean tones make rare appearances, but they operate as moments of tension between waves of dissonance and off-kilter rhythms rather than as real calms. Where other metalcore acts would take these opportunities to showcase some clean vocals, As The Sun Sets warps convention by overlaying clips from Jacob’s Ladder, and wind up warping conventions that didn’t even exist yet! While Eighteen Visions was also littering Until The Ink Runs Out with movie clips around this time, they were using them for isolated intros and outros. As The Sun Sets incorporates them into the songwriting. Consider the near-acoustic build-up underneath the lengthy sample on “Such Words Were Upon the Tongues of Demons,” and how it matches the ebb and flow of Jim Robbins’s paranoid rambling. Plenty of metalcore bands use spoken-word passages, but this is a subtle, spooky, and brilliant twist on the trope that you're not likely to hear elsewhere, and hardly done this well.
The Kurt Barlow of ’71 doesn’t do much more than hiss and grunt - it was one of those controversial adaptational choices on the part of the writers to keep Barlow mute, rendering him that much more primal and inhuman. It worked. But if he had been allowed to speak, I don’t think he would. I think he would shriek and growl, and it would sound an awful lot like this: bat-like, tortured, and absolutely chilling. You’ll be hard-pressed to find such an unsettling vocal performance anywhere outside of the grimiest death metal. It’s certainly possible to find vocalists with higher highs and lower lows, but it’ll be a long time before you encounter a performance as textbook rabid as this. Alexis S.F. Marshall fronts Daughters now, who were quick to form in the aftermath of As The Sun Sets’s demise. Their Canada Songs is an extension of the grind sound they adopted for 7744 and 8949 while they were still As The Sun Sets, but Marshall’s style on Canada Songs is closer to the straightforward screams of those last As The Sun Sets efforts, meaning not at all like the hellish shrieking of Each Individual Voice. It sounds as if he’s hitting two pitches simultaneously. If it were studio trickery, their live show wouldn’t have held up; but by all accounts, he was once capable of performing these vocals and just hasn’t touched this ability since.
Lyrics are almost secondary to Marshall’s sheer tone and power, but I hold that they’re appropriately vampiric, dealing with an overarching theme of intense heartbreak leading to violence against self and others. It may sound a little generic, but generic isn’t As The Sun Sets. While death metal was lightyears ahead in terms of repulsive subject matter from the get-go, the diction and grammar of these lyrics recalls that of the following decade’s deathcore acts: sometimes clumsily specific, sometimes weirdly hyperbolic (“My halo burns out a million mournings ago!”), they are nevertheless cohesive in their single-minded nihilism. As you might expect of a band named after sundown, the passage of time and the struggle with mortality is a pretty recurrent issue: there are plenty of longed-for “yesterdays” and doomed new “days,” feeding into the album’s unspoken vampirism.
At bottom, Each Individual Voice is about exhaustion, abandonment, hopelessness; of attempted escape and inevitable failure, all in line with the vampire's existential crisis. It’s early on, in “Such Words Were Upon the Tongues of Demons,” that Marshall acknowledges: “You can separate yourself from the truth, but when the sunset dies, so will you.” We can interpret this any number of ways, depending on what angle you buy. This wonderful line could just as easily refer to a release sought in the act of dreaming as it could vampires, and for what it’s worth, I secretly suspect that dreams are the vampire, here. Dreams are invoked over the course of the album as a means of escape, fitting snugly into our main interpretation, and “Unfulfilled Dreams Are A Burning Utopia” is all about transitory moments; the inaccessibility of the past. In whichever sense one chooses to interpret Marshall’s “dreams,” whether as the REM sort or the life-goals sort, he makes it a point that “pretending won’t fulfill” them, and “dreams that will never be are not easy to cope with.” On the very next song, he admits:
I’ve exhausted dreams and aspirations.
I have failed myself and those that I love.
And I dream no more.
The dreams end here, abruptly. We listen as “Utopia’s” prayer for “the sweetest of unhappy endings” comes to fruition, and our protagonist gets “down on his knees” midway through “Carpathian” to beg some unnamed other:
Tear my throat with anticipation!
And judging by the album’s last three tracks, a devastating trilogy of closed eyes (“...Shed For You As For Many”), burned flesh (“A Thousand Falling Skies”), and open wounds (“Everything”)…
“There shall be no more death. Neither shall there be sorrow. Neither shall there be anymore pain. The former world has passed away.”
Wherein Brian hilariously overanalyzes a subgenre of metal!