Nothing Sannhet does is accidental. For bands that play noisy music with guitars, this might go against logic or conventional wisdom. Great things happen when a group of musicians with a certain chemistry gather together in a room and start hammering out a groove. The jam session is a time-honored tradition in music—an institution, a failsafe method.
But that's not how it works for Brooklyn instrumental post-rock trio Sannhet. In a phone interview conducted while the band was driving between tour dates, bass player A.J. Annunziata explained just how carefully composed Sannhet's music is.
"Everything we do is insanely methodical," he says of writing new album Revisionist. "We...put together the songs in order. It was one to the next to the next, figuring out how to get the syntax for that put together. If you look on the ProTools files for these songs, there are zillions of guitar tracks."
Zillions of tracks is probably an exaggeration, but Revisionist—released in March via Flenser Records—is certainly a dense and complex album. It comprises nine songs of dramatic and diverse instrumental soundscapes, which take the listener through a cycle of intense, emotional sounds, textures, build-ups and climaxes.
Sannhet plays July 2 at Soda Bar
The title track opens the album with a mighty roar, all three musicians working in harmony to craft an epic, majestic sound, rising up into a triumphant post-metal anthem. Meanwhile, "Lost Crown" is three minutes of atmospheric, densely layered shoegaze with the slightest touch of black metal just around the edges. And on some of the slower moments, like "Sinking Forward," there's a beautiful, if mournful dirge-aspect to their music that might come across like a film score, were it not for Christopher Todd's thunderous drums.
For as much ground as Annunziata, Todd and guitarist John Refano cover, however, they keep their songs relatively short, with only one of them crossing the six-minute mark, and most of them hovering around three or four minutes. Where bands like Deafheaven or Godspeed You! Black Emperor craft compositions of epic proportions, Sannhet's mission is to deliver the goods as directly as possible.
"We don't like to linger on these pieces and just jerk off," he says. "It's not so much about progression. You have an idea, you put it down, and it's yours to take away from it. Nobody is dancing to this music, so we don't want to wallow in one place. We don't necessarily want you to pick up on everything right away. Maybe you'll catch something new each time."
Perhaps Sannhet isn't writing music that follows the American Bandstand standard of excellence, namely that it's catchy and you can dance to it. But whether or not anyone actually is dancing to the powerful instrumentals on Revisionist, it is music that's meant to be experienced live. The trio puts a lot of energy and effort into putting on a memorable live show—not just in terms of the music they play, but in the visual aspects of their performance.
Sannhet use visual projections, but not a screen, so the images become obscured by the musicians' bodies. And Annunziata triggers floodlights in key moments that offer an unexpected, explosive element, which can catch members of the audience off guard.
"It's disorienting. It's almost too bright," he says. "During the loudest part of the song, you're just kind of overwhelmed by this God moment'.
"When you see us live, because we don't have a singer, we dress it up and make it a theatrical experience," he adds. "All of the pieces are meant to tell different stories."
Part of the challenge of being an instrumental band is being able to create something that resonates with listeners on a deeper, more emotional level, without relying on lyrical content. And that emotional connection is something the members of Sannhet place a lot of importance on. Annunziata describes the progression of the songs on Revisionist as having a particular storyline, though he hesitates to explain what that storyline is, exactly. Still, when heard in a sequence, the album unfolds with a dramatic introduction, exposition, conflict, climax and eventual resolution. Whether or not the plot of the story is clear, the dramatic activity of the album is definitely there.
Presenting their music as open-ended, instrumental pieces is a challenge but not a handicap for Sannhet. Remember, everything that they do is that way by design, and by leaving their music open to interpretation, it allows more people to make that intimate, personal connection.
"It is a very emotive soundscape being created. And it's definitely meant to evolve," Annunziata says. "People can envision things that connect with them. The reason we don't use lyrics is that you feel the emotion, but it's supposed to be personal. When you put in lyrics, all of a sudden it has a specific storyline. Leaving it instrumental, it leaves it open to interpretation.
"Depending on where you are in your life," he continues, "you can take different things away from it."