Written by Andrej Simeunovic
UK extreme metal band, Dragged Into Sunlight, are more than a band - they're a misanthropic plague, rolling its way across Britain and leaving hatred and depression in its wake. This blog discusses the black-and death- infused sludge music, grotesque imagery, and overall grim aesthetic of the band's 2009 release Hatred for Mankind.
Dragged into Sunlight is a mysterious collective of musicians in the United Kingdom playing a unique type of black- and death-infused sludge metal. The members conceal their identities with balaclavas, play live with their backs towards the audience in near complete darkness and fog (albeit heavy strobe lights), identify themselves only with single letters, and fluctuate in number in both live and studio roles. The more you read about Dragged into Sunlight, the more you get the sense that it isn’t so much a band, but more a misanthropic plague, rolling its way across Britain, leaving hatred, depression, and misery in its wake. Thankfully, us Yankee wankers, and the world at large, got to hear this outfit’s sound in 2009 with their first full-length album, Hatred for Mankind. Take a second to let that album title and the album art below sink in.
If nothing else, you should realize these guys are serious. Metal can be so over-the-top with its imagery that it sometimes seems silly and juvenile. Dragged into Sunlight does not fall into this category. This is not a group of Brazilian teenagers obsessed with “that brutal shit, man,” who are trying to play Devourment-style slam worship. This group and this album is actually brutal; it is actually scary. It’s sick, depraved, misanthropic, dirty, filthy, grimy, bleak, chaotic, and evil. If the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were in a band, this is the album they would release.
To further re-iterate my point, take a moment and watch the music video to the second song from the album, “Buried with Leeches” below.
The ‘music video’ is actually just the song set to roughly 7 minutes of E. Elias Merhige’s harrowing experimental horror film, “Begotten.” Much like the song it’s set to, the footage in this video is absolutely grotesque, graphic, and gloriously unashamed in its display of the horrors that man is capable of. To my knowledge, the only place you will find this video is directly from Dragged into Sunlight’s website. The “media” section of the website has a single download link that will forever mar your computer with a folder containing:
I include these details to show you the band’s aesthetic: they’re authentic and genuine in evil and disgust. This band set out to create their own brand of extreme heavy metal, visually and sonically, and they have succeeded in every way. Now let’s turn our attention to the sonic aspect of their assault, because this is where the true evil lies.
Their sound combines traditional metal genres and peppers avant-garde elements throughout. Hatred for Mankind presents the listener with a sickening amalgam of black, death, doom, and sludge metals. This mixture becomes even sicker with the addition of grindcore bits, noise (the genre) elements, eerie electronic sections, and spoken-word samples throughout the songs. Superfluous descriptors aside, this album is an incredibly innovative and impressive combination of a number of genres, both metal and non-metal, that few bands in recent memory have so effectively accomplished.
The guitars are heavy, dense, noisy, crust punk gritty, and create a wall of sound whether the track is slow doom metal or blistering, blackened death metal. Their tone alone is one of the key reasons this album is so sick and filthy: take the Swedish death metal buzzsaw guitar tone made famous by Sunlight Studios, and then dip that in corrosive acid. Now take that, distort it even more, add a hefty amount of feedback, make it thicker and more abrasive, and you should be in the ballpark. Oh, I almost forgot, you have to cake the entire thing in blood and guts. The term “disgusting” is really the most applicable adjective here.
The drums are equally heavy and noisy, often merging on the low end with the guitar and bass. The cymbal work is nearly constant – shimmering, crashing, ringing, and exploding – ensuring there is ample noise and chaos throughout. A surprising aspect of the drum work is the toms, which are exceptionally high in the mix and have a tremendous amount of bass. Yet this strange decision works quite well because the drummer beats the living fuck out of those toms. Whether they’re lightning fast or painfully slow and drawn out, each hit of the toms is massive and heavy, rumbling over you like a Panzer tank, crushing your chest and exploding your heart again and again. Better yet, there are parts throughout the album where the drummer plays intricate patterns involving the bass drums, toms, and a ludicrous number of cymbals. In songs such as “I, Aurora”, these parts that are not only rhythmically and technically interesting, but all that percussion pulls you further into the darkness.
The completely deranged vocals include shrieks, screams, grunts, and death metal growls. The vocals don’t appear often throughout the album’s long run time, but when they do, they are unhinged, vitriolic, and purulently releasing hatred for all those who dare to listen. The shrieks and screams come in a number of different flavors, as do the grunts and more traditional growls, and it’s those little details that make the performance so satisfying. If you were tortured to death, would you produce exactly the same type of scream each time? No. You would be losing your mind and screaming every way possible. That’s exactly what the vocalist, T, does throughout this album. His vocals are extreme, they are out of control, and they sound like they are coming from an insane person on a rampage heading directly towards you.
The bass is sadly difficult to pinpoint, which is unsurprising given the noisy and incredibly loud production and how the low end of the instrumentation mixes together into a singular wall of sound. Detuned and distorted sludge riffs, pummeling bass drums, absurdly loud (and bass-y) toms, and a somewhat blown out production; it all combines into such a monstrous and decrepit mess that the bass is nearly indiscernible. It is there, but it’s buried.
“Boiled Angel” opens with one of the better, if not creepier, samples on the album — several perfectly timed drum hits (roughly as heavy as neutron stars) introduce you to the first blood-caked sludge riff of the album. Vocals come in shortly after, drenched in reverb, and repeatedly bellow the phrase “another bastard in the ground,” in every imaginable, psychotic way. The song then shifts and alternates between heavy sludge riffs and wonderfully bleak black metal tremolo. Throw in another sample, china cymbal hits that sound like mortars, more great lyrics (“kill every cunt”), and you’ve already given up on humanity by the 2-minute mark. At 2:43, everything comes to a halt as the guitar feedback begins to endlessly drone underneath a cryptic spoken-word sample. Once the guitars start riffing again and the drums start soloing over that, the noise and feedback grow and grow until the end of the sample and the song, at which point all instruments drop out and the feedback simply becomes earsplitting.
“Boiled Angel,” and its following song, “Buried with Leeches,” are combined into one song on some versions of the album. My version of the album separates them into two separate tracks, but they should be thought of as one outstanding one, as the weird spoken word sample and guitar feedback at the end of “Boiled Angel” transition seamlessly into the kick-your-teeth-in aural blitzkrieg that opens “Buried with Leeches.” This entire album, and in particular this combined track, is an exercise in dynamics as it tortuously drags you through rusty barbed wire by combining slow, doomy, and distorted sludge grooves on one hand and blasting and incredibly violent blackened death metal on the other. Whether you’re being dragged slowly to ensure the barbs are deeply ripping your flesh or you’re mercilessly being pulled through the wire at high speed for maximum bloodshed, each section of the song is torturous and unapologetically hateful.
The seven songs on the album range from three minutes in length to nearly twelve, but the most potent cocktails of their many musical styles are the longer songs. For example, “Boiled Angel/Buried with Leeches” above, but in particular, the longest song, “I, Aurora,” is exhaustively epic and exemplifies all the strengths of Hatred for Mankind. The song opens with a groovy buzzsaw riff that wouldn’t be out of place on a Carnage demo, and backs it with hard-hitting tom rolls and punk-influenced snare. The general intensity of the song continues as the guitars take on a black metal aesthetic, then abruptly incorporate heavy and open sludge chords into the mix, before immediately going back into a higher register riff and drum blasting section. The opening minutes of “I, Aurora” are at times a touch more melodic than other songs on the album and incorporate choir-like chanting vocals just after the 2-minute mark. Yet all of these different musical ingredients merge together seamlessly, which further displays the versatility, talent, and borderline schizophrenia of the musicians.
One of the best aspects of this album as a whole is the wide range of negative emotions it evokes. During the four minutes between the choir vocals at 2:08 and the middle of the song, “I, Aurora” is just so damn bleak and depressing. The blasting section at the three-minute mark evokes images of a soldier cowering in his foxhole, watching his entire battalion being slaughtered by an unstoppable and merciless enemy. At 6:32, the absolute best part of the entire album occurs: four massive drum hits, a pinch-harmonic, and the general chaos of the song give way to a true and absolute abyss. The drums and impossibly heavy guitar chords push you further into the darkness completely against your will. As you frantically reach out, trying to escape the darkness and evade the soul-crushing fate that awaits you, all instruments slow down to a glacial, suffocating pace to ensure that your resistance is futile and your descent into madness is now inevitable. The vocals tortuously spew single words at a time in a sonic space that can only be described as the absolute lowest level of human existence. These two minutes of “I, Aurora” are incredibly claustrophobic, analogous to a musical black hole. And only at your lowest point, the point that you have truly and completely given up hope, does the song pick up in pace again. It revisits some of the song’s earlier motifs, throws in some extra strangeness with an eerie clean guitar break, and focuses into a tornado of destruction right up until the very end.
For all of its strengths, Hatred for Mankind does have a few weaknesses. The album closes with “Totem of Skulls,” a 5-minute noisy ambient piece that tends to give one a headache more than anything else. It does fit the album’s themes well, but upon repeated listens, most listeners will likely skip it entirely. Aside from the ending track, the real villain on this album is the borderline egregious spoken word samples. In some instances, such as “Boiled Angel” and “To Hieron,” the samples fit the music quite well; the samples align aesthetically and thematically with the music, making the complete song sound cooler as a result. However, the majority of the time the samples are annoying, feeling forced into the mix and unnecessary. Listening to the whole record in one sitting or repeated visits to the individual songs makes you realize this fact more and more. Most simply, the samples are seriously overused, but the worst aspect is that the more you become entranced with the music, the harder it is to take having a sample ruin that perfect musical moment.
In conclusion, I highly recommend you grab a Gatorade or a beverage with electrolytes before you listen to this album because it’s genuinely exhausting. I also recommend you have blankets, a loved one, and Ornella Vanoni’s “L’Appuntamento” on hand for the emotional and physical fallout after the album. Hatred for Mankind is a monolithic and towering edifice to the worst traits of humankind captured in a nearly hour-long barrage of avant-garde noise, shrieks, and nihilistic sludge metal. It’s the most convincing soundtrack to subjecting a person to several hours of brutal torture this reviewer has heard. The entire album just breaks your bones and crushes your soul. You’ve been warned.