Following up an already impressive album (the self-released CDR and cassette reissued II) is never an easy feat, but Chicago's Sun Splitter have done just that. Continuing their doom metal/rock/industrial hybrid sound with an even greater level of polish, as well as going a bit more experimental at times, the sequel may even surpass the predecessor.
Sun Splitter's debut managed to encapsulate all of the things I enjoy about heavy metal music (sludgy, memorable riffs, an appropriately dark atmosphere), without much emphasis on the stuff I have never been fond of (overwrought cookie monster vocals, trite blasphemy, etc). They continue that approach here, and continuing to use a stiff drum machine that hints at the brilliance of early Godflesh without sounding like an intentional copy.
"The Serpent’s Gold Death" exemplifies this, and does a wonderful job at encapsulating the album as a whole: opening with weird, mangled sounds, it does not take long before a bass heavy low-end guitar riff kicks the door in, with a metronomic drum machine along for the ride. While the vocals show up later on, they are both so heavily processed to be nearly unrecognizable, and low enough in the mix to compliment, rather than dominate the rest of the instrumentation.
"Eye of Jupiter" trades in similar wares, with its immediate feedback and stuttering kick drum, but with relatively clean guitar tone that hints at the best of '70s hard rock balancing out the harshness. Between this, constantly evolving guitar sounds, and a bit of organ, the track shows more variety in six minutes than most bands do for an entire album, but each segment flows nicely into the next, not coming across like rough jump cuts or forced changes.
It is on the two longer pieces that the band goes for some more experimental sounds and changes. "Parasitic Machine" starts out with a simple mechanical rhythm and diverse guitar lines, locking into a steadier groove than the preceding "Eye of Jupiter", but not in a dull fashion. At about the halfway point, the heaviness falls away into cold, frigid lands of ambience. The piece slowly builds back up, but never gets to the intensity that it began with.
"Two Cold Oceans" takes a more dramatic approach: slowly building up from a calm, organ driven opening, it quickly locks into a doomy, but propulsive rhythm. As it builds upon itself, it eventually launches into a full on cacophony with only the vestiges of guitar identifiable. The piece then collapses, closing the album with echoed voices and mutilated loops.
III keeps Sun Splitter's unique take on metal to its next logical stage. Sticking with the catchy riffs and machine beats that work so well, but adding in an even more prominent focus on abstract textures and dissonant distortion makes for an extremely powerful album, one that shows there is little chance of these guys succumbing to the stagnant repetition that so many lesser metal bands fall prey to.