Sonja – Loud Arriver Review

Long, long ago—even before the days when the lonesome warble of AOL’s “You’ve got mail!” swept through the wilds of the heartlands—goths and metal freaks shared an equitable “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” sort of relationship that allowed for a relatively peaceful outsider coexistence, replete with shared territories for meals, shows, smokes, and the occasional collusion against our shared sworn enemies, the jocks and dreaded bible thumpers.

Release date: September 23, 2022 Label: Cruz del Sur Music.
Needless to say, musical intermingling amongst goths and headbangers occurred back in ‘em olden days, but it took a number of orbits around the sun before the cross pollination resulted in an authentic amalgamation that yielded something worthy of celebration on the metal side of the fence. Some would argue Black Sabbath achieved it right from the jump, despite the gothic element being more of an aesthetic influence (analogous to Mercyful Fate), but for a slew of others who didn’t fall into goth music naturally, yours truly included, it was probably Celtic Frost’s 1987 magnum opus Into the Pandemonium that first sparked the fires by supplanting Warrior’s explicit “Are you morbid” with a revised “Are you gothic” query that encouraged us to investigate Dead Can Dance and Sisters of Mercy CDs at our local Coconuts, Peaches, and Camelots.

Fast forward 35 years later and we still find heaps of gothic elements in metal, but what appears to blow the collective hair back the most these days are the bands that choose to dial back the heaviness in favor of a sound that’s closer in line with the big sunglasses / Andrew Eldritch-styled gothic rock that dominated the mid-to-late ‘80s. Hey, that’s great; looking to Sisters of Mercy as an influence is never a bad idea, and no one really needs the Peaceville Three Hundred. However, as is customary, innovation is very much appreciated, and we certainly don’t need umpteen metal bands pulling 180s in an effort to be Tribulation v120.0 or even Idler Hands / Unto Even More Others, especially when straight-up gothic rock and its many off-shoots happen to be experiencing an even more thunderous upswing in prolific activity. Bottom line: If you’re a metal fan and dig all the assimilation of goth rock, darkwave, post-punk, etc., be sure to step outside our confines to enjoy projects such as Pilgrims of Yearning, And Also the Trees, Terminal Gods, She Past Away, Soror Dolorosa, and countless others—it’s a truly wonderful time to be at war with the sun.

HAVING SAID THAT… We clearly love our heavy metal with every fiber of our heart, and we will always welcome those heartening moments where unique bands find interesting ways to build Frankenstein’s monsters that sew together pieces ’n’ parts from a full assortment of ancient bones into something that manages to feel fresh, which is where Philadelphia’s Sonja enters the narrative.

What really works for Loud Arriver is that, while it certainly holds fast to a slew of hashtags largely focused in and around the realms of gothic and glam, it wields those identifiers in a way that’s innovative enough to not actually sound like any one band that very likely influenced the members’ collective creative approach. So, while it seems quite possible that groups such as Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, Glorious Din, early Alice Cooper, Slade, etc. served as inspiration, Loud Arriver still manages to deliver something that sounds like uncharted terrain. The closest similarity in overall approach might actually be the last Henrik Palm record, 2020’s Poverty Metal, but swap out the stronger underscoring of beefy post-punk for the glitzy finger-gloved sleaze of early Ratt. U got it, baby.

Guitarist / vocalist Melissa Moore is a riffmaster. A riff mistress. A rifftress. I’m guessing you’re already aware of this, though, as the last time we heard from her (in full album form) was when she penned three of the best songs on Absu’s coda Abzu: “Earth Ripper,” “Abraxas Connexus,” and “Ontologically, It Became Time & Space.” Now, with that dark chapter fully behind her, she brings her sixth sense for fret sorcery to Sonja, and the results are equally rewarding in a totally renewed way. This record is packed to the rafters with incredibly infectious riffs—sharp, inventive riffs that snare the listener like a stylish vocal hook. Furthermore, there’s a sort of furtively melodic touch to her fretplay, and it underscores the gothic atmosphere while avoiding soloing entirely. Listen to “Nylon Nights” and allow that opening riff to hip-bump your weary heart into fresh life, followed soon after by dabs of snug gloominess that’s perfectly suited for slinking out into the night in search of wanton deviltry. The touches of bleak post-punk drift in and out of the peripheral like steam escaping a dark city’s underbelly, and Melissa’s ghostly voice further underlines that overall sense of shadowiness.

You’ll notice the production is very crisp and modern—similar to what you’d hear from bands such as Sumerlands or even Eternal Champion. Oh, hello, Arthur Rizk (Sumerlands, Eternal Champion) is responsible for mixing and mastering the record, so this all makes perfect sense. That crispness suits the record (perhaps) surprisingly well, as it not only gives Moore’s riffing another level of punch, it does a wonderful job of making sure every player gets ample time under the lights. And homeslices, every member of Sonja is deserving of their own spotlight here. Fellow Crossspitter and ex-Absssuer (live) Grzesiek Czapla (pronounced Grzesiek Czapla) is a champ behind the kit, coloring the corners with imaginative fills, shuffles and Mikkey Dee levels of cymbal friskiness, while Ben Brand’s bass levels the joint with tons of breakaways and a generally heavy and very fibrous presence that throws some added brawn into the mix to further offset all the brooding. Check out “Fuck, Then Die” for an illustration of the wealth of Sonja’s collective energies delivered in one tidy 5-minute package (that even manages to find a way to close with a big fat Edgar Winter / “Frankenstein” rumbling outro.)

All in all, it’s quite evident that the intent here is to balance a mood that’s equal parts shadowy and gritty, and to capture the spirit of classic harder-edged gothic and glam rock without coming across as a flimsy carbon copy of… Well, anyone. Loud Arriver achieves that in spades, but what really manages to stick to the ribs as you continue to pore through these 38 minutes is the fact that everything’s delivered in a way that also makes it clear Sonja had a lot of fun making the record. Accordingly, every song drops some sort of pleasurable hook, be it vocally or through a memorable series of riffs, snappy bass runs, or flashy drum patterns. In essence, Loud Arriver delivers a very entertaining and cheeky form of gloom that’s akin to playing spin the bottle in a cemetery, where seven minutes in heaven requires slipping into a verboten and crumbling tomb. It’s a unique trip, and it’s sure to find common ground between goths and classic metal freaks alike—pariahs forever joined in our mutual quest to not only endure the relentless dark, but to thrive in its very heart.

Posted by Captain

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; I got the Wordle in 1 guess; Just get evil all the time.

  1. Just a recommendation if missing that late 80’s goth rock check out October burns black excellent!

    Reply

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