Lviv, Ukraine quartet Nonsun did not write their sophomore album about the invasion, yet like Kotra’s Radness Methods, Blood & Spirit matches the tumult of its time. The band writes, “Never could we imagine how painfully relevant the album’s title would sound near the time of release… Wish it wouldn’t. Though initially meant to have a personal meaning, obviously now it resonates with much more…”
It’s no coincidence that the LP is released on Good Friday. Not only do these tracks speak of physical conflict, but according to Nonsun, “The album title refers to spiritual struggles through the bloodiest of times. The five tracks, in a sense, are yearnings, or prayers, thrown into the void.”
A tone of defiance is palpable throughout the set, the quartet less likely to stare into the abyss as to scream into the aforementioned void: question upon question, without answer. Those who hear the music during the invasion may ask, Where is home? Who are we as a people? If the buildings are gone, what spirit survives? “A Wizard Grieving Over the Loss of Magic” begins tenderly, but when the song slams into Black Sabbath-esque riffs, it fills the space meant for grief with anger.
There’s no backing down for the people of Ukraine: an attitude that has won global admiration. This energy is channeled by the aggression of first single “That Which Does Not Kill.” Nietsche’s complete phrase is even more relevant: “Out of life’s school of war—what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” Giant growls, monster riffs and a sense of unbridled passion makes this track the album’s stronghold. The music stops short mid piece and starts again. Nonsun does seem strong. Those who listen to their music may feel strong in return.
“Days of Thunder Bring New Wisdom” is filled with punishing passages, but these recede to make way for military snares: a sound that is downright frightening in the current context. When these are followed by a low, monklike chant, the contrast between violence and prayer is laid bare. The subdued ending leads to a softer start in “Guilt, Disgust, Disaster.” There is still time for reflection, between the bombs, in the quiet after the explosions, in the long, dark, sleepless nights of the soul as strangers and friends huddle together for safety, jumping at every sudden sound. Why have you forsaken me? cried Jesus on the cross. There was no answer, save for the rumble of thunder and a darkened sky. The song ends in a siren-like synth: emergency, emergency.
Blood & Spirit may be unrelenting, but the LP is also empowering. One might play this music for freedom fighters, for citizens constructing hedgehogs and mixing Molotov cocktails. What began as a prayer has become a scream. The finale is haunted by intimations of church organ. Perhaps Nonsun has its answer after all. If the music now serves a higher purpose, might this be evidence of a divine hand? (Richard Allen)