Sinking Suns drag darkness with them everywhere. The Madison trio, whose ominous name evokes the end of day, squeeze the light right out of their music. But on their new EP,Songs of Revenge, the path to catharsis is clearly marked.
Singer and bassist Dennis Ponozzo is acutely aware that releasing demons on wax can be therapeutic.
"I think, if anything, it probably helped," he says, recalling how he's seen death and tragedy affect family and friends over the last decade or so.
As that pain and loss manifested itself in the EP's songs, a common thread of striking back emerged.
"When all the songs started coming together and we looked at the lyrical content, revenge just seemed to be a constant theme. It's also a catchy title," Ponozzo says.
The satisfaction of wreaking vengeance is very apparent on "A Song of Revenge," the story of a prison sentence spent plotting comeuppance. The track also contains a primordial ooze of gnarled guitars, scorched bass and pounding drums. Though the EP's lyrics can sometimes be tough to parse, song titles like "Drown in Black" and "Torn Apart" make it clear what awaits the band's antagonists.
Ponozzo says the dark themes don't get the group down, though the ideologies behind a few of the lyrics have come close to offending his bandmates. But this has never led the group to tone down their material. If anything, it's helped them grapple with their differences.
After spending 15 years in Albuquerque, N.M., where he played in a band named Below the Sound, Ponozzo relocated to Madison in 2007 and formed Sinking Suns. He and guitarist Scott Udee teamed up for a basement recording project. Drummer Gabe Johnson joined the band in 2009.
Ponozzo says neither Udee nor Johnson had played in bands much prior to Sinking Suns. Though the group performed a few live shows in their first year, they've taken their time releasing music.
When Sinking Suns' first seven-song cycle came out a few years ago, the musicians weren't as sure of themselves as they are now, Ponozzo says. But with the new EP, writing has gotten easier.
"I think we just got better as musicians and had a better vision of where we wanted to go," Ponozzo says.
Part of that vision involves building songs sturdy enough to hold a large collection of influences, some of which are quite heavy. Udee has a natural inclination toward a surf-rock guitar style. Ponozzo and Udee both like the blues. Johnson's musical tastes are much different. But the bandmates can all agree on noise rock.
Udee's style clearly reflects influences like East Bay Ray of the Dead Kennedys and Duane Denison of the Jesus Lizard. Ponozzo says the surf element wasn't prevalent in early recordings but has found a prominent role as the band's sound has changed.
When Udee's fluid, surf-informed playing mixes with Ponozzo's gravel-dusted voice, the band's sound gets murky and menacing. On "Southbound," the opening track of Songs, Ponozzo extends the words "cattle car" into a lengthy, garbled yelp. Throughout the recording, his angry-sounding vocals give listeners a glimpse of a charred soul. This singing style is a product of age and wisdom.
"My voice has changed. It's gotten lower and a little more gruff," Ponozzo says. "To be honest, I've gotten to be a better singer as I've approached 40 years old compared to what I could sing in my mid-to-late 20s."
Ponozzo's growling voice is also a good match for his scuzzy bass. His hard-driving, rhythmic playing served the band's drummerless iteration especially well, but he admits this is the style he likes the most anyway. The sludgy sonics splatter mud across each song, and on up-tempo chargers like "Fathoms Deep," the bass counterbalances the acrobatic, staccato guitar.
Together, the music and lyrics conjure darkness effectively. Ponozzo doesn't see any reason that aesthetic will go away.
"It seems that at this part of my life, the lyrics just end up that way," he says. "The music that we like usually ends up being dark, and that's not intentional. One day, if we get together and we write a happier, poppier song and it sounds good, we'll definitely use it."