Interviewed back in 2012 for their debut album release, ex Moment Of Collapse Records signees sludge post metallers SUNDOWNING recently got back together after 10 years and released their new crushing album “In The Light Of Defeat, I Cease To Exist” in March 2022 on Isolation Records. The record alchemizes grimy, slowly crawling sludgy riffage and dark post metal’s heaviness with hunted vocal mantra, resulting in a perfectly flowing offering that is, at times, as calming as it is heavy and atmospheric.
We have teamed up with the band to give you a full track by track commentary, featuring in-depth explanation for each and every ripper from “In The Light Of Defeat, I Cease To Exist”.
“In The Light Of Defeat, I Cease To Exist” is out now via digital streaming platforms and vinyl from Evil Greed, Deathwish Inc., Church Road Records and Moment of Collapse Records. GO HERE to pick your best fit.
Track by track commentary by SUNDOWNING’s vocalist Christoph Wietzorek:
Exits Don’t Exist is not just the opener of the album but also the very first song we wrote when we came back together. Initially we tried different sounds and approaches for the band just because we wanted to come up with something new but none of it really worked for us. However, while writing and demoing Exits Don’t Exist, it immediately felt like we are onto something.
I think it is also worth to mention that I wrote the main riff back in 2014 already. I still remember that I was just messing around with the intro notes of the Deftones song Battle-Axe and eventually it turned into this bleak riff that really stuck with me for all these years.
It also became clear very early Early on I knew that Exits Don’t Exist requires something else than just my usual voice. We already knew that Basti is a great singer and just letting him sing the entire song would have been the easy way out but instead I wanted to try it for myself. My first takes were quite embarrassing, but we kept working on it and it slowly began to take shape. Lyrically I was really propelled to make use of a much simpler language than before. While writing the lyrics for Exits Don’t Exist I felt really inspired by the early Swans and was just fascinated by how Michael Gira kept his lyrics so primitive and monotonous while creating such a meaningful and lasting impression.
Exits Don’t Exist is actually two songs in one which is why it also has two titles divided by a slash. Basti and I originally came up with those synth pad and the trippy beat because we wanted to create a lengthy atmospheric outro. It stayed like this for quite a while but two or three months before we finally entered the studio, I came up with all those ideas turning the outro into a song within the song and we decided to keep it like that. It is worth to mention that we actually had an earlier slot booked in the studio which had to move by six months due to Covid and that second half of the song was only written in-between those dates. So without pandemic, the song would already have ended around 6:30mins.
Imminent Ache was written immediately after Exits Don’t Exist and while the opener of the album is quite atmospheric and offers a lot through the single note picking in the main riff and all those aethereal sounds and elements, we wanted to do something else different with song number two. The entire riffing and especially the first part was really inspired by Primitive Man. I just wanted to create a song that sounds super bold, heavy and nasty. Most of the song is actually rather simple and was written in a more tone-oriented way, so in hindsight it is not really surprising that the main structure and rhythm guitars were written in two days during rehearsals in Berlin back in 2018. It was obvious though that the song was not finished at that point and that it still needed a lot of elements to justify its length of 8:28 minutes make a composition for this song that felt right for us. Ironically, while the foundation of the song was just written in two days, it probably took another two years to finish the track because we really had a hard time to come up with the right ideas.
There was a period where I was quite obsessed with Vein.FM for their use of pitch shifting effects which is why I eventually bought a Digitech Whammy, as well as a Boss Pitch Shifter and an EHX POG because I just wanted to try it for myself. One thing led to another, and I eventually came up with all those lead ideas that eventually found their way into the song. My favorite part is probably that chaotic whammy lead guitar that I am playing while Dylan is singing. Speaking of Dylan, he just felt like the perfect fit for the song and since Pascal had been friends with him for years, it was really a no brainer to ask him for the part.
The last part that is worth to mention is the strings and brass section in the last part of the song. After finishing up the drums, the bass and most of the guitars, we still wanted to incorporate some other sounds and instruments. Basti and I were sitting in his home studio and we just started messing around with the brass section of his synthesizer and we really enjoyed it right from the beginning so we just stacked layers upon layers to make it sound like a complete brass and string section which really helped the song to stand out.
A Prison, A Cage was written in a similar matter as Imminent Ache. The song’s structure as well as the drums and rhythm guitars were done quite early on but again the song was just lacking something. I remember that Boris’ album LOVE & EVOL came out around that time and we all were really enjoying the track LOVE. I would not say that the lead guitar in the intro part of A Prison, A Cage really sounds like Boris but that song definitely inspired me to come up with those pitch shifted and atonal notes. Similar to Exits Don’t Exist, it became clear very early on that the part in the middle is predestined for clean vocals. I really put a lot of effort into the that part but even up until we entered when we entered the studio, I was not really convinced that I could make it but somehow it worked out after all. Needless to say that it most probably would not sound half as good without another layer of Basti’s vocals on top as well as Nikita’s magic fingers during the mixing process.
Last but not least, A Prison, A Cage was also the first song of the album that we felt like is done and ready to be recorded. We still made some changes and added some details here and there but after all, this was the first song of In The Light Of Defeat, I Cease To Exist that was really done during the writing process.
The first time we worked on Armor Of Indifference was during a rehearsal in Berlin in the Evil Greed warehouse back in 2019 where we just jammed and came up with that weird 6/8 part that we are playing for two or three minutes right after the intro. During that session we also came up with one or two additional riffs for the song so we left with a good foundation for the song. However, while checking the recordings from those rehearsals at home, I realized that I did not really like the song’s parts and structures except for that pounding 6/8 part, so I came up with a different arrangement and wrote the quiet part in the middle as well as the climatic ending. I really wanted to imitate energetic and ecstatic playstyle of Swans and create a part that becomes more intense with every single repetition. After all it would be idiotic to think that the end part of Armor Of Indifference could really take it up with the perfection and brilliancy of Swans but I am still very happy with how everything turned out.
The writing process of Armor Of Indifference was overall pretty similar to Imminent Ache. Not just because we wrote a remarkable amount of it during a jam but also because the lead guitars and additional sounds were only added at some later point during the process long after demoing the first ideas for the song. Given the lyrical themes of the album and the overall atmosphere, it really felt natural to mess around with those dissonant chords and sounds, bit crushers and noise generators that gradually turn the song into an undefinable monolith of noise and pounding drums before it suddenly falls apart. In that aspect it only made sense to not just contrast both parts with instruments but also with our voices.
The title track of the album is also the last song that was created throughout the entire process. It was actually written at a point where we had been quite sure already that this will be a four song album. However, one day I came up with the idea for the very last riff of that song and I immediately felt that I had to turn it into a song for the album. I actually started writing the song backwards then which – to me – is super difficult and thus quite unusual but somehow it worked out this time. The chord progression that the guitars are playing once the heavy section of the song kicks in is also the very last part that I added to the song and similar to the main riff of Exits Don’t Exist it was stuck in my head for years already at that point, so it was quite satisfying to finally put it to good use.
To me, In The Light Of Defeat, I Cease To Exist is quite intense and dramatic and thus it is the perfect endpoint for the album. Lyrically it really sums up the overarching tropes of personal defeat, the struggle and turmoil that one may experience while balancing the own needs against the expectations that others project on us. The lyrics may not sound hopeful or optimistic at all and they also do not present a form of solution to the struggle that the narrator of the album experiences but personally I still feel like there is a sense of relief or serenity that is created by the song.
In The Light Of Defeat, I Cease To Exist is also another song where we have made extensive use of pitch shifting effects and the Digitech Whammy, especially in the very last part and throughout the guitar solo. Speaking of that solo, this has been another ‘first’ for Sundowning but it just felt so appropriate during the part that it had to be included. Even though it meant weeks of practice because I am far from being a decent guitar player.