By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
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By Emily Weiss
For Daughters of the Sun, it is a beautiful, portentous night, black as pitch and full of fate.
The place is the Hexagon Bar. In a few hours, the venue will be packed to the walls to see them play. The album is Skull Judge, a 12-inch split with Vampire Hands, about to drop on Modern Radio. And as they sip Pabst outside the venue, they find themselves at the daggerpoint of their longest tour and their most ambitious song yet, "Dry Ice," a 17-minute-plus track that seems to illuminate, in a single, unyielding vinyl groove, every strange, hoary idea they've plumbed from their deepest musical fathoms.
"When we were writing it, we thought it was some really dark shit," says founding member and multi-instrumentalist Nick Koenigs. Blond hair past the shoulders, lean as a whip, Koenigs, like the music he makes, has the quiet majesty of a secret sorcerer. "We had an upbeat pop song we'd played on tour, and we disassembled it, and it just kept going and going. To a point, that made sense to us. So much of our stuff has been so light. This time, it feels like we're finally releasing something brutal."
Daughters of the Sun/Vampire Hands
Daughters of the Sun is half a decade young, a band born good in 2005 and gone wild by 2010, a trio conditioned for rough weather by a slew of lineup changes and fluctuations in stage setup, forced to untame themselves from convention by frequent rearranging. They've been a quartet and a quintet in previous lives, have penned dozens of songs made impossible by constant mutation, and they sit now, as they always have, in bald confrontation with the future's unknowable frontier. But do the shake-ups that have spiked Daughters of the Sun's ascent hamstring them, destabilizing a band that has shown a simultaneous need to expand and gift for constancy? Or is there a tonic in unpredictability, a vitalizing force in the chaos?
"It's a little of both," says Bennett Johnson, who, like Koenigs, founded the band and plays drums, guitar, and sings. "Incorporating older songs has been the hardest thing through all the lineup changes. The ones that work we hang on to. The ones that don't we don't play anymore. People will bring up the most random thing from our first demo, and we just can't do it anymore." He shrugs and sends a cigarette sparking into the night air. "We write so much that that stuff doesn't really matter to us."
Their discography proves it—over half a dozen self-released tapes and CDRs; Rings, their vinyl full-length, also on Modern Radio; and the forthcoming split, they've become the masons and yeomen of a perverse and beautiful guildhall they share with treasured outlanders like their tourmates Vampire Hands. "Dry Ice," their sole entry on Skull Judge, is a fugue of synth drone and hissing noise, anchored in its middle minutes by a thundering guitar-and-drums movement that repeats like a rosary and seems, by its final minute, poised to loop into a dazzling infinity.
They'll be matching the enormity of the song's undertaking with a monstrous American tour. Through 44 shows in 46 days to the edge of both bordering oceans, they'll share the quest with Vampire Hands, and it'll be far from the only thing the two bands have shared. Be it lineups, musical visions, or members (Vampire Hands guitarist Chris Rose was, once, a Daughter), Daughters of the Sun have chosen their mates well, and what might seem a terrifying climb is instead an inviting, if fearsome, prospect.
"It's more exciting than intimidating," says Johnson. "We've shared practice space with Vampire Hands since day one. Shared members with Chris. We've been friends forever. We've been talking about a split for five years."
Daughters of the Sun's story is an elegant yet unruly one, and when Johnson pauses to name his enchantment with his own dazzling present, it's no surprise that the virtues of mutation are the fulcrum by which the band swings into their future.
"It's so different," he says. "We've all changed so much. I'm just super excited that it's even happening."