Australia's Suldusk Blossom Into A Gloomy, Atmospheric Force on 'Anthesis'

Australia's Suldusk Blossom Into A Gloomy, Atmospheric Force on 'Anthesis'

- By Jon Garcia

Emily Hightower of Melbourne’s Suldusk chats with Knotfest about expanding her one-woman dark folk/blackgaze project into a full band, and her winding journey to creating the type of music she wanted to hear.

Emily Hightower had given up on music.

The Melbourne vocalist, guitarist and founder of folk-infused blackgaze band Suldusk is a lifelong metalhead. She cheerily boasts about when she saw the original Pantera lineup after getting her wisdom teeth removed.

“When I discovered heavy music it changed my life,” she said. “I think for a lot of us, it was something that was expressing stuff that I couldn't articulate in real life.”

However, her days playing with other people were marred by band issues, egos and being treated as an afterthought. Jaded and tired of drama, she hung up her guitar and decided to get on with her life.

But like most creatives, that call to keep composing compelled her.

“I just thought [music] was a phase,” Hightower said. “But no, it’s never a phase. It’s always there, nipping at your heels.”

She tinkered and toyed with her music before rediscovering her creative spark in the form of Suldusk. Originally an acoustic-based project, Hightower put aside any desire to people please or make something commercially viable and just focused on writing for her own sake.



“I started doing a deep dive into Agalloch, who were the band that really got me back into the style,” Hightower said. “I just loved what they did. That was the impetus to start creating music that I wanted to hear, because it wasn't really being produced. My first love is being able to reduce even a heavy styled song into an acoustic basis. It's got to have good bones.”

Several years later, Suldusk has offered the world Anthesis, their second full-length and first release as both a full band and with Napalm Records. It continues Hightower’s work of layering her captivating voice over haunting guitars and string accompaniments, while expanding further into the beauty and brutality of atmospheric, blackened-folk metal.

It’s been a long and winding road for Hightower to get to this point, but if Anthesis is any indication the band has nothing but potential ahead of them.


Suldusk began life as a humble solo project, nothing much more than Hightower’s voice over an acoustic guitar.

“When I found the opportunity to just pick up my acoustic again, it was more for me to just play again,” she said. “Just play and see what happens.”

Hightower uploaded her first compositions to Soundcloud, never expecting anyone to ever hear them. But not only did people somehow stumble upon her songs, they resonated with them.

“I found that people like gloomy shit,” she said with a laugh of her early Soundcloud demos. “So I went to a producer, made an album, and it made a little bit of a ripple for that style. I didn't think there was a demand for it, but I didn't really care.”

Hightower released her first album, Lunar Falls, in 2019; an enchanting journey through mystical acoustic passages, enveloping melodies and Hightower’s dynamic voice that deftly swaps between hypnotic cleans and visceral fry screams. Suldusk takes the listener to an otherworldly realm, where they can levitate between the conscious and unconscious.

In the time since the first Suldusk songs were created, the demand has certainly grown for one-woman, blackened and ethereal folk projects. Amalie Bruun of Myrkur, Katherine Shepard of Sylvaine, Julia Mattila of Vermilia and Helga Gabriel of HELGA – to name just a few – have all made their mark on the heavy scene and all bring something different to the table.

The reception to Lunar Falls inspired Hightower to expand the project into a full-time band and find musicians to help better serve her vision. Originally, the live band was her, another acoustic player and a djembe player. That wasn’t going to cut it for what she wanted to do.



“With [Anthesis], I wanted to elevate [Suldusk] a little bit and go a bit wider and deeper with the styles,” she said. “I was putting a wish list out to the universe. I wanted another acoustic guitarist who understood Opeth and what they were doing; the intricate acoustic sound. I wanted someone really proficient in that way but also understood metal. Someone who was techy, who understood blackgaze, tremolo picking, black metal.”

The universe responded.

She found Josh Taylor, a classically trained guitarist with a penchant for death metal, and Shane Mulholland, another guitarist with a post-metal and technical death metal background. Hightower also found drummer Frankie Demuru, whom she calls a “beast” of a young player, violinist Hayley Anderson, and bassist Daniel Green, a reliable and organized ex-Army guy who “has never really had any recognition” through his time playing in the Melbourne scene.

“I was very lucky,” Hightower said. “I don't know how but people must have heard about the project, and they were keen to work with me. So I didn't have to actually enlist anyone and put it auditions out, they started gravitating to me, and I'm going, 'Fucking Hell. How is this happening?’”

Once Hightower, Taylor and Mulholland got together to compose, it felt completely natural.

“We started just throwing things into the pool and sort of grabbing what would work and then building on that,” she said. “It's just been a very organic process. It's just happened and it just kind of revealed itself, unfolded itself. There has been no pushing and pulling and agonizing in terms of the set up with people. So yeah, I feel very blessed.”

The issues she had with previous bands have been non-existent. They know she calls the shots as the “benevolent dictator” and makes the executive decisions. Even still, Hightower knows her bandmates are there to serve her vision and takes great care to listen and acknowledge their contributions while setting her attachments aside.

“You've got to submit to what's going to be best for the song,” she said. “That's an age thing, I think. It's not worth fighting for your ego, to cling on to become attached to something. Why? Everything dies, everything disappears, might as well just let that go.

“It's not easy,” she said with a laugh.


Anthesis had been in Suldusk’s quiver for a while but the pandemic complicated the process, as it did for almost every artist. Melbourne’s lockdowns killed the live music scene for a time and Hightower was grappling with seismic shifts in her personal life as well. Writing was already difficult, then halfway through mixing they changed producers and had to re-record several parts.

When it was finally finished, Suldusk sat on the album for a bit, holding out hope they might be able to connect with a bigger label so more people could be exposed to the opportunity to listen. The band put so much effort into composing and recording, they didn’t want all of their hard work and perseverance to be in vain.

“It's always been a hope that you get little surprises every time you listen to a track,” Hightower said. “I love that sort of intricacy and those little sonic surprises, and I really wanted to deepen the experience for people in that way. Shane and I worked pretty hard together to try and do that, to try and give people that experience.”

The wait paid off. During a show supporting melodic death metal titans and fellow Melburnians Be’lakor, they were introduced to the A&R of Napalm Records. The label listened to and loved the album, and eventually signed Suldusk and released the record.



Anthesis is another step forward for a band hoping to make their mark in the wider heavy landscape. Throughout the album, it feels as if Suldusk is only just scratching the surface of what they could ultimately achieve. Hightower agrees, saying they’ve already written about half of the next album and they are driven to release it sooner rather than later. Their experience creating together as well as playing live has given her a better idea where to take the project.

“I want to write stuff that's really fun to perform live, as well,” she said. “I want to give people some ‘chug-chug’ moments. Give people a head bang, you know? Get lost in the ethereal. They can have that moment with us and we can enjoy it all together.”

Suldusk imbues the Australian wilderness throughout Anthesis’ nine tracks in both the music and the lyrics. Whether it’s the call to the ancients on “Sphaera,” the soundscape of birds that begins “Crows of Esper,” the Sylvaine-meets-Baroness beauty of “Crystalline,” or the lost-in-the-wilderness feel of “Mythical Creatures,” nature is a thread that binds all of Suldusk’s work to date.

Hightower’s time outside is precious to her, a non-negotiable that helps keep her grounded and keep anxiety at bay.

“I've grown up here in [Australia] where nature is frickin’ brutal,” she said. “There's so much beauty and brutality enmeshed here, but it's also like the most beautiful way to downregulate your nervous system.

“It's such a place of solace for myself and my bandmates. It's something bigger than us. It makes you feel that we're just organisms really, it just gives you a perspective. There's that grace that comes with knowing that and I think that's why nature's in the music. The birds and the sound of the ocean. It's something that is very soothing.”

For now, Anthesis represents a new beginning for Suldusk; something people can escape to, get lost in, and let their mind wander to ocean vistas, magical forests and rugged, precipitous cliffs.

“I hope they feel things they haven't felt for a while,” Hightower said of the listeners journey. “Deep deep feelings. I hope it's cathartic for them in some way, and I hope that they find some value in it.”

Anthesis by Suldusk is available everywhere via Napalm Records. Get the album - HERE

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