Listening to Black Snow Desert, the debut from Ukrainian instrumental doom/drone/blackgaze duo Nonsun, is like taking a pilgrimage through a constantly changing landscape. The journey is long, and at times quite arduous: The album comprises two CDs, with the shortest song topping out at 8 minutes. The sounds contained often fit the album’s title: dark, cold and empty. Songs build slowly, and often plod to their crescendo. There’s no shortage of scraping, screaming and crashing sounds. But after those crashes, the sonic landscape often shifts, and moments of pure, shimmering beauty emerge.
What makes Black Snow Desert such a compelling listen is the band’s ability to create opposing ideas -- harsh vs. soft, dissonant vs. melodic, empty vs. full -- and mold them into a coherent yin-yang fabric of sound that demands engagement from the listener. This isn’t music that you can just turn on as background music and then go about your business. There’s too much to miss, and the payoff from fully immersing yourself in the sound is too great.
Black Snow Desert begins with “No Pity for the Beast, No Shelter for the Innocent,” a 15-minute plus opus that slowly builds with droning guitars and distant cymbals. Veering into shoegaze at its warmest, fullest parts. The album alternately plods and glides along, through colorful, shimmering and exotic passages on “Peace of Decay, Joy of Collapse,” and scraping destruction on “Heart’s Heavy Burden.” It finally throbs, then explodes to an end on the final track, “Rest of Tragedy.” You can’t help but feel slightly spent at the conclusion of Black Snow Desert, but as with any good trip, you’re eager to make the journey again.