There is something indescribably empowering in the half-wakened realization that one is dreaming. From within the bastion of reason, semi-lucid dreaming allows one to soar the realms of madness as if held aloft at the precipice of awareness. The sleeper finds resplendent free reign in the psychic cosmos of the dreamscape yet, ultimately bound by conscious reality, such fantastic flight is necessarily impermanent.
The man who calls himself Zhaaral offers a glimpse into his interpretation of the dream state with his first solo LP, Skullreader, created under the mystic moniker, Sun of the Blind. Maintaining an air of mystery, he says of this project only that it is the culmination of three years of personal tribulation during which he elicited from a skull the five songs therein and invites the listener to assimilate them, to ‘…sleep without sleeping.’
As a meditation on the reluctant symbiosis of rational thought and the dreaming mind, the strength of Skullreader is reflected in the simultaneous effusion of cold quiescence and rarefied reverie. At once brushing the aural canvas with coils of the cerebral and the celestial, Sun of the Blind illuminate the “Cursed Universe” with multiform layers of Burzumesque fuzz filtered through Red Harvest’s industrial sieve, and splashes the eddying black with the empyreal accents of …And Oceans. Zhaaral’s affiliation with Darkspace is evident in the track’s mid-tempo black vastness, whereas lustrous melodic cascades call to mind contemporaries Veil and Blut aus Nord. Hurled forth from far behind the blackness, primal rasps and guttural cries entwine with angelic aria in tormented contradiction.
Even as “Cursed Universe” and final track, “Vanitas,” are barely contained within the boundaries of atmospheric black metal, Skullreader’s intervening tracks are less so, often slowing the astral flow to anguished abeyance. “Lord of Mind” ventures into blackened funeral doom territory where it looms menacingly alongside the bilious brilliance of Urna’s latest until sinuous synth melody ushers in a desperate urgency, only to be once again quelled by a soothing ethereal chant. “Fire and Thirst” sets sweet melody against tortured dissonance in a maelstrom of contradicted emotion. The doom death melodic trance of Swallow the Sun is invoked in “Ornaments,” in which the dreamscape is at its most inviting, solicitous though not yet warm, until it slowly devolves into an ashen drone, delivering the listener once again into the unfeeling void of “Vanitas.” Latin for ‘emptiness’ and a reference to still life art symbolizing the certainty of death, “Vanitas” is certainly a reflection of Zhaaral’s counsel with the skull. Its slow extracelestial march pushes a relentless rhythmic tide against which beautiful but fleeting and flailing melodies struggle and ultimately succumb, destroyed, the detritus of dreams rendered impotent beneath the crushing weight of reality.
Sun of the Blind remind the listener that dreams, like reality, are neither wholly ephemeral nor absolute. Rather, each is a reflection of and regales the other. Skullreader is a fantastic voyage into the confluence of the two that compels the disquieting realization that, in the end, neither can be sustained.