Whirring into life like a comet lowrider being fired up, Usurper of the Universe is an ever expanding cloud of trippy space dust gritty with derision. Who, or perhaps what, is SÖNUS is a question the answer to can change with every listen; the six track album as much space rock opera—a beer and bong infused version of Queen’s Flash Gordon score with SÖNUS playing both band and Ming—as a frustration-driven social commentary not only on the world we currently live in but always have.
Track one, ‘Nuclear God’ is SÖNUS’ knocking on the door with the offer to jump on the back of the above mentioned lowrider. Sure, we might be spaced-out and roaring across the great cosmos in awe and wonder, but there’s no bones made about what’s really going on with this trip when the beast at the grips screams ‘fuuuck you!’ at the universe with so much depth and conviction there’s absolutely no doubting that, oh yes, David Wachsman really fucking means it.
Track two, ‘Pay Me Your Mind’ kicks down a gear just to come back up them again fast as possible; a fierce wind of avenging angel in confrontation with the drudgery of everyday life; the Devil’s nowhere to be seen, but it isn’t the Dark Lord SÖNUS is after: instead those who keep voting for Him.
Track three, ‘Usurper of the Universe’ allows a moment of respite: the pulling over onto the hard shoulder of the cosmos super highway; a rest area surrounded by a dozen nearby planets; some looking close enough to touch. It’s a chance to shake off some of the red space dust getting everywhere and down a couple of cold beers in recognition of the power knowledge can bring.
But it’s no picnic. SÖNUS has got something to say about the pitiful way mortals insist on groping blindly in the dirt when the truth is there to see; a declaration of understanding their great weakness. SÖNUS: god not by the force of brute strength, but realisation of that required by the congregation, the darkness needed to hold their world in the palm of a hand.
Track four, ‘The Golden Path’ . . .
Upon reflection rides contempt; methodical, an ascending to a great height before the sands of time are flown across and humanity is held to account for its crass indulgences; all flaws laid bare as stinging retribution rains down from the tailpipes of the comet above, harsh down force leaving no stone unturned.
Track five, ‘Amáranthine’ sees the nebula peek, full force and second wind expended. Though it billows outward still carried by momentum: the throttle let go; clutch pulled in for an electra glide in astonished awe at the carnage below.
Desolation and destruction; destitution feeding depravity: a place where money turns to flames and life is drowned in oil; all charred remains and choking for air that isn’t there, thirsting for water rife with waste . . .
And nothing to do but take in the view: we’re almost out of gas, the reason for all that clutch in freewheeling. SÖNUS looks over its shoulder from the front of the seat, asks without saying a word: is that the punishment or what they need punishing for?
Track six: ‘Tanelorn’. We’ve been gone aeons, and like the songs says, ‘time has flown by’. The rage has abated, quenched by release; King Kong climbing to the top of the Empire State, banging its chest, feeling a lot better for it and maybe needing a little sleep. Except the only ape on this ride are the handlebars, and here in the smoking aftermath of if all, SÖNUS worries it went too far, that all the freewheeling in the universe won’t be enough to get us back home.
It brings out true motivator of the rage and fury: not to rule, subjugate or crush; but to be free to love without the noise and interference of those things.
There’s definitely no way to drop me off first; it’d mean stopping. SÖNUS instead heads straight to its love in anxious hope of making it; a tear in an eye for fear of not, while one in the other for knowing what has to be done for the peace and sanctuary sought if it does.
We make it, just . . . and I get to watch as the lovers hold hands and walk into a blazing horizon.
It’s impossible to review this album without making comparisons to SÖNUS’ 2020 debut Worlds Undreamed Of. But it feels like there’s incredible risk of being misunderstood when doing so. Usurper of the Universe is a giant step forward, without Worlds Undreamed Of having anything about it that needed moving away from.
Much of Worlds Undreamed Of’s appeal is its rawness, which in most part came from being recorded in a homemade DIY studio with cardboard vocal booth.
With Usurper of the Universe much is the same; David Wachsman recorded all his parts in the same said studio. Different is bringing in long-time friends Tyler Hovestadt (of Fractal Era) and Eduardo Salazar instrumentally (as above); Tyler using his better equipped studio for his textural synth, the sound effect work on the title track and ‘Tanelorn’, his drums on ‘Amáranthine’, and for recording and editing Salazar’s drum takes.
Once again an outside studio is used for mixing and mastering, but this time Simon Jameson of Black Art Audio, with Wachsman able to pull on everything learned making the first album when discussing how he wanted Usurper of the Universe to sound; another same is the welcome return of Jaymi McGinn, David’s partner, on backing vocals (appropriately on ‘Tanelorn’).
The end product being an album distinctively SÖNUS while significantly different from the last.
When it comes to sound, Usurper of the Universe ticks all the boxes of a well-toured, backed by a label but can do what it wants in the studio band at the top of its game. It alone would have me singing praises in abounds. But what really makes it stand out, the lyrics:
Wachsman rarely relies on the ‘fast cars/motorbikes and telling hot babes how it is if they wanna get in/on’ standard rock ‘n’ roll fare; instead of aimless posturing on street corners, he opts to hang in the ballpark of Black Sabbath/Clutch: hard poetry, abstract at times, but nonetheless written with something serious in mind and cutting for it.
Usurper of the Universe intertwines what Wachsman wants to say superbly with all the beer, bong smoke, cosmos surfing and blistering guitar solos synonymous with space rock, making for a far-out-Rage Against the Machine-on-mushrooms exceptional end result of an album!
Usurper of the Universe:
My sincere thanks to David Wachsman for the opportunity to review one Hell of an album!
Thanks for reading 🙂
N. P. Ryan
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