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Music Review: Nights Like These – Sunlight at Secondhand

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Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, Nights Like These have returned with their sophomore release from Victory Records. Their debut album, 2006's The Faithless, is an album of which I have not had the pleasure, but after experiencing Sunlight at Secondhand, I am inclined to dig it up, if only to see where these guys started.

For a band that comes from the same place that spawned the likes of Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, it is interesting to hear this doom and sludge driven metal with distinctly southern flavors. They are not likely to become a favorite, but this album has a lot of good stuff contained within its digital bits. I am reminded of the likes of Cephalic Carnage and Mastodon. Now, Nights Like These are not quite at the level of those two acts, but the comparison is apt and shows just where they may be headed with their future work.

The first thing that will likely grab your attention will not be the first track, or your memories of their debut, but the cover art. It is very reminiscent of Mastodon's Blood Mountain cover art. Upon a little research (meaning I checked the liner notes), I discovered both covers were done by artist Paul Romano. He has worked on a number of bands' covers and has done some excellent work. The one for Sunlight at Secondhand is striking and will definitely catch your eye as you browse the CD shelves.

Once you get the album home and eagerly slip the shiny disk into your CD player, you will be greeted by some excellent music that is not at all what you expect. Again, this assumes you are in the same boat as I, a first-timer. This sludge/doom/death/metalcore hybrid is not what I expected from a band under the Victory banner, which I tend to associate more with emo and screamo type bands.

Sunlight at Secondhand gets off to a fast start as it floors it right out of the gates with "Heart of the Wound." After a voice asks "Are we rolling?" you are punched in the face by a blast of drums, guitars, and screamed vocals. It then slows down into a sludgier track that is highlighted by the drums with strong backup from the guitars as the pace goes through a number of movements as the song builds.

The further I got into the album, the more apparent it becomes of how important the drums are to their sound. This is an album that has an ebb and flow all its own that carries through the individual songs and the album in its entirety. Each song is carefully structured and placed to work equally well as a stand-alone piece or within the bigger context of the album. The element that keeps the train on the tracks are the drums, controlling the flow, signaling the changes, and never becoming boring or repetitive. Much credit to Patrick Leatherwood who does some marvelous work behind the kit. All you need do is check out any one or two songs to recognize his importance to the overall sound.

Billy Bottom delivers the vast majority of the vocals in a deep, throaty growl but varies it enough to keep it interesting. A common complaint I have about the screamer singers is the monotony and the lack of any distinguishing characteristics. Now, Billy is not nearly the best I have heard, but he does a good job on the lyrical delivery to keep it flowing.

Meanwhile, Matt Qualls and Derren Saucier deliver a lot of flavor and texture on the guitar side. From a few solos to the heavy, deep, and sludgy riffs to a sound that is a bit more thrashy, they deliver a lot more than headbanging riffs. There is a highly atmospheric quality to a lot of their work, which is given some backbone by bassist Sebastian Rios.

This is an album that features a lot of strong songwriting throughout, making picking out highlights a bit of a difficult task, but let’s try anyway. I love the various movements of "Samsara" that are highlighted by strong riffs. "Bay of Pigs" is just downright brutal in its heaviness and features a strong influence of the south in its flow. There is an excellent progressive doom sounding instrumental track called "Collective Unconscious" that is just fantastic to listen to. "Claw Your Way Out" features some great atmospheric playing while "Empty Lungs" ratchets up the thrash factor. Basically the entire middle is strong, not to downplay the start or the finish, but there is a definite buildup, peak, and decline giving the album a nice sense of completeness.

Bottomline. This is album came as a surprise. It is a complete package from the great artwork to the wonderful music contained within. Not your typical Victory band, and one  to keep your eye on. If you like your music complex and sludgy with plenty of technical expertise, this is one for you.

Highly Recommended.

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