“I had an experience. I can’t prove it, I can’t explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything I am tells me it was real. I was given something that has changed me forever, a vision of the universe, that tells us undeniably how tiny, how insignificant we all are… “ —Contact
These words from Contact could have easily been a sound clip used on Below the Sun’s debut album, Envoy. In many ways, Envoy is a similar journey, one that takes us deep into the corners of outer space. It is a reflection on the experience of being a myopic in that our inner universe—the ego—believes itself to be so significant. The cover of Envoy has the outline of a man staring up at the stars, and his face itself is a reflection of the cosmos to which his gaze is consumed. Everything about this album speaks of this experience: humanity’s first journey into the universe, which began aeons ago with an inner journey.
It is rare that while listening to music I have been completely floored—like an astronaut on a spacecraft being shot into outer-space floored—from the sheer intensity involved. Below the Sun have created these moments when the gravity of the music pulls you in and the world around you starts feeling a bit different. While significant parts of this album are instrumental, the vocals that do exist are some of the strongest the genre has to offer. Absolutely ferocious, these moments are pure funeral doom akin to Evoken or Ataraxie. They have taken the time to place vocals into the appropriate place, leaving large spaces in between when the vocals do appear. This is very much in the best interest of the listener, for when the vocals do occur they reach a level of intensity that is truly out of this world, and often after a few minutes of post-rock buildups that erupt into a ferocious growl that demands your attention. When it ends, it feels like you just partook in a massive cleansing, and the ambient space that follows is to ground yourself for a few moments and be able to breathe.
With the shortest song being over six minutes, and the longest fifteen, this is not an astral journey for the weak of heart. At times, it can seem like an eternity until the next aural galaxy is entered, and between the only presence to greet you is the void. These moments are not for those seeking stimulation, who need their senses to constantly be tantalized. Much like the inner space of deep meditation, it takes patience, the lack of waiting, and acceptance that this is all there is. Not that this is a metaphysical journey in a sense, this is simply the cold vastness of reality. It is only our need to identify that places these terms in a despondent aesthetic. While Envoy certainly takes on an atmosphere not unlike the loneliness of space, it still remains unattached—a coldness that can only be identified through its opposite aspect of warmth. But this is not an intentional blithe nor does it contain any moral; only the true vastness of space, which has no human concepts, as far as we know, of coldness or loneliness.
It is rare that such a complete album would surface, especially as a debut. Songs like “Breath of the Universe” give Envoy room to breathe with a low ambience that is deeply reflective. Those moments that explode are like a supernova in all its awesomeness, in the correct sense of the word: power. The instrumental tracks and vast ambient passages allow the listener to absorb these moments without being overpowered by heaviness. It is a shame that in a world where music affiliated with doom metal has gained so much attention, that an album like the one before you might be passed over for a simple stoner piece or any other number of bands in the genre that are getting more attention than they deserve. Not only does Envoy‘s funeral doom sections stand strong alongside the best of them, from Evoken on down the list, the blend of post-rock gives it a very modern yet refreshing feel. For once, this is an adequate display of what is currently happening in musical circles that isn’t simply a regurgitation of the same tired ideas or a desperate attempt at originality. Of course, this is all centered around great riffs, and Envoy is full of plenty of them. They are the kind that create a sensation in your body, taking your atoms and insisting they come along. You will not have a choice, so enjoy the ride.
As you “Drift in Deep Space,” a disorienting sound enters as everything starts to get shaky and all control is lost. What this strange sound is, I have no idea, but I know it is unfamiliar and, therefore, uncomfortable. However this is not the place I am used to, where no solid ground exists beneath my feet; only the vastness of space and the recognition of insignificance. The lyrics themselves reflect a concept of losing control of a space shuttle, exposing how meticulously conceptual this album is. Without the lyrics you can tell your own version of the story, but together with the music, it is like reading a book with a soundtrack. One just needs to accept that these are simple short journal entries. Just as suddenly, the song ends with a tribal drumming, reminding us of our other, earthly origins. “Breath of the Universe” ends with throat-singing, and in a way it feels like this is the end of the album, and the last track, “The Earth,” is the scene playing with the end credits. It feels like a gentle come down, softly landing you back on the ground.
An album such as this demands some sort of closure; the music reflects the journey that the listener has just partaken in. Sci-fi themed post-ambient doom sounds a bit superfluous, but it will have to do, for it truly blends many concepts used in music and other forms of media. As they pound out the last riff, insisting on squeezing one more experience out of what was an exhausting journey, the music once again reflects within itself, as if it is attempting to form its own conscious entity. In some way, this does seem absolutely alien; it is something that exists far beyond the normal human experience.
01) Outward the Sky
02) Cries of Dying Stars
04) Drift in Deep Space
05) Breath of the Universe
06) The Earth