As a teenager, Sons of Huns vocalist/guitarist Pete Hughes was bitten by a tick in the Virginia woods. He contracted Lyme disease, “among other things,” he shared in the press release for While Sleeping Stay Awake, “leaving me now 16 years later with chronic pain and illness and searching for answers to questions that no one seems to have answers for.”
Hughes cites Raja Yoga, meditation, and Hermetic philosophy as inspirations for the Portland trio’s sophomore album, which was recorded by longtime Melvins producer/mixer Toshi Kasai. This is heavy metal at its most raw and cathartic. The band, especially master soloist Hughes, plays with an abandon, as if to bury their inner demons under a mountain of riffs. From the opening volley of “Osiris Slain”, with its ’80s thrash gallop and mathy Voivod-isms, to the Iron Maiden worship of epic two-parter “Alchemist”, While Sleeping Stay Awake goes for 45 minutes straight, no rest.
Sons of Huns move amorphously between various schools of heavy metal. On “Philosopher’s Stone”, they’re a doomy proto-metal outfit, conjuring a hazy psych groove — or what I’m calling “The RidingEasy Sound,” as the label has become a touchstone for this brand of stoned heavy. And with Scott “Wino” Weinrich supplying guest vocals on “An Evil Unseen”, Sons of Huns almost literally become SST-era Saint Vitus for a track. All the while, Hughes rips solo after solo, showcasing his virtuoso talents usually twice per song. He interweaves scales in such a way that his solos could essentially go on forever. But there’s a sense of economy to the songwriting. Nothing outlasts itself: Solos end before they meander, and the riff-writing relies on just the right amount of repetition. The rhythm section of drummer Ryan Northrop and bassist Aaron Powell is tight and compact, but also massive if you’ve got the right sound system to tease the album’s low end.
While Sleeping Stay Awake is frequently thrilling musically, but there’s something else at work here emotionally that makes it that much more memorable. It’s the same quality captured on the Melvins material Kasai has recorded. Perhaps it stems from Hughes’ personal and spiritual stake in the music. This album has more personality than your standard riffing metal record and more staying power because of it.
Essential Tracks: “Osiris Slain”, “Philosopher’s Stone”