More even than the heavy tones and slow pacing, what’s most striking about The Inside Room, the 2011 full-length debut from cleverly-named UK trio 40 Watt Sun, is the emotionality. Released by Cyclone Empire in European territories and Metal Blade in North America, the album finds former Warning guitarist/vocalist Patrick Walker regrouping with drummer Christian Leitch (also of The River) and newfound bassist William Spong for a collection of five tracks whose breadth isn’t so much the central focus as is the seemingly genuine feelings behind them. That is to say, The Inside Room, despite the inclusion of acoustic guitar layers here and there, doesn’t distinguish itself by the varied nature of its material as it does by the conviction with which the songs are performed. Formidable (both in runtime and effectiveness) opening duo “Restless” and “Open My Eyes” tap into a rare well of sadness that, while some British doom acts push into more dramatic territory, 40 Watt Sun manage excellently to balance with the force of the music.
The Inside Room is nonetheless in the British tradition, but greatly helped by Walker’s vocals, which are stronger and more melodically capable than those one might find on albums from typically-thought-of UK acts like My Dying Bride or Paradise Lost. Mostly what 40 Watt Sun would have in common with either of those bands is the willingness to convey a certain wistfulness or regret through songs, but it feels like much less of a performance on “Open My Eyes,” and I’m inclined to believe the morose stomp of that song comes from an authentic place. Both that song and “Restless” before it hover around 10:45 in length (the opener one second more and “Open My Eyes” one less), and likewise, they follow a similar pacing and structure, typified by slow, distorted riffs, strong but not hooky choruses and acoustic endings. With the shorter “Between Times” (6:55), Spong makes his presence more felt with liquid bass lines accented by Leitch’s prominent hi-hat and snare. Like the rest of The Inside Room, “Between Times” isn’t likely to be a radio hit, but Walker’s vocals rest easily over the music and the song’s tonality satisfies some of the same contemplative melancholy as Alcest – albeit in a different musical context.
The changes throughout The Inside Room are predictable, the counts decently choreographed, but the immediate familiarity of some of 40 Watt Sun’s moves (anyone who heard Warning’s 2006 resurgence, Watching From a Distance, will certainly recognize many elements here, though Walker’s tone is brighter) winds up making the songs even more relatable. As the centerpiece “Between Times” fades poignantly into “Carry Me Home,” the scope of the album becomes clearer. There’s something definitively pretty about the kind of sadness 40 Watt Sun proffer – that might be at the root of the Alcest comparison as well – and with “Carry Me Home” and closer “This Alone” sharing a similarity in runtime to The Inside Room’s first two tracks, it’s easy to think of the album as showing particular songwriting modes or formulas, pieced together almost in bunches: the two 10-plus-minute tracks, the shorter centerpiece, then the two nine-and-half minute tracks. This ultimately has little effect on the listening experience – which satisfies wholly – but is notable in terms of trying to get a handle on the band’s methodology for putting together their first album. The sweet ringing lead notes that end “Carry Me Home” are just as easily relatable to mid-period Anathema as Blackwater Park-era Opeth, and though it might be the slowest song on The Inside Room, “This Alone” is also the most hopeful.
That (seeming) contradiction is at the heart of what makes 40 Watt Sun work so well, and indeed what most distinguishes the band from Warning. “This Alone,” on which Walker masterfully layers his singing and Spong once again makes the case for why thicker strings deserve to dominate mixes, is positively gorgeous, the lines “You make me feel like I’m just being born/You make me smile/You make me know myself/You make me feel like I’m someone else” acting less as a confessional than glorious testimonial. As the ending to The Inside Room, “This Alone” provides decent-enough summation of 40 Watt Sun’s breadth – which, again, isn’t musical variety as much as introspective heft – but most importantly, it expands the context of the album to include an optimism grown out of the prior darkness. It adds a linear flow to the progression, and just when it feels like it could go on forever, it’s done. In a way, it feels disingenuous to call The Inside Room a debut, since the players involved are obviously capitalizing on years of experience in the genre, but as the unit’s first album, it leaves a unique impression among 2011’s strongest traditional doom releases.
Tags: 40 Watt Sun, Cyclone Empire, Metal Blade, UK