Thursday, February 26, 2009

Swallow The Ocean - Swallow The Ocean

Artist: Swallow The Ocean
Album: Swallow The Ocean
Label: Forgotten Empire Records
Year: 2008

01. Sirens Mourning
02. Amphibian
03. Dancing Upon A Sunken Vessel
04. Latitude
05. Archive
06. Hands Folded, Eyes To The Sky
07. Sink Or Swim
08. It's Safe To Sleep Now

The instrumental and stoner/sludge musical arena isn’t a crowded one but its got its own number of very big fish. Guys like ISIS, Neurosis, and Sleep have laid down the very foundation that makes much of this genre what it is today, and for the most part, still drive it. Epic songs full of atmosphere, musicianship, depth, amazing sounscapes, and blow-your-mind riffs. Yorktown Heights’ own Swallow the Ocean enter the genre with gauntlets thrown and full of confidence. And for damned good reason: their debut is heavy and extremely atmospheric. They’re listed as “atmospheric sludge” on Metal Archives, whatever that is. Whoever categorized them as that forgets that most bands in this genre can have that very same title and not be sludgy at all.

Their self-titled debut Swallow The Ocean is insanely heavy. Pounding riffs, soundscapes as big as the Grand Canyon, insightful lyrics. The album weighs in at barely over 27 minutes over 8 tracks, not nearly enough time to wrap your head around these guys and their sound. Their lyrical focus is apparently Christian although, I’ve paid less attention to the lyrics themselves and more how the vocals meld seamlessly into the music as a whole. It shows that they’ve taken great care in crafting their sound while not trying to sound like imitators of ISIS or Neurosis which undoubtedly will happen in this genre — it happens to almost every band playing this atmospheric heavy epic metal.

But how does it sound?

Awesome, that’s how. The album starts off with a 19 second instrumental intro, fairly standard for albums like this. Then you’re straight off into track two, Amphibian. Starting off on the right foot, it’s a pounding guitar riff sweetly laced with bass drum and heavy bass. Bass heavy enough that you’re hearing the strings hit, this isn’t something you get everyday as most bands back filter bass lines to simply be a part of the overall rhythm or timing but not these guys. Will Zuconni is a fantastic bassist, we need more guys like him. Amphibian’s lyrical focus is an interesting one. The song starts out about men evolving into amphibians and growing gills and becoming one with the ocean then starts off into ascendancy to Heaven but being turned away, probably because man grew gills. It sounds like a devolution story to atone for sins, but man seems to not want to go (ed. - I’ve gotten a note from Rory in STO that the lyrics are not Christian in nature as I originally had written) But the music, it’s amazing. Throbbing bass the entire time, spotlighted in the bridge segue halfway through, and a monotone but driving lead guitar rhythm. This is a great way to start an album if you ask me, it pulls no musical punches instrumentally and widens the soundscape during the bridge with a beautiful synth piece that’s backgrounded.

Track three, Dancing Upon A Sunken Vessel, starts out with some mournful bells and sounds much like an old wharf or dock may, lending to the overall theme of the band’s name and their oceanic premise. They then interlace the bells more and more with guitars and high hats, ramping up to the song itself. This song continues track two’s heavy but almost somber feel with heavy riffs and non-stop high hat action, intermixed with some serious blastbeats that are set further into the soundscape’s background. Vocal styles sway from typical growls to some heavy/soft mixes. For the song’s laid back mid-tempo, it all works. The song gives you a feeling of the ebb and flow of the ocean itself, segues slowing you down as you ebb back and forth from heavy riffing and throbbing bass. The next track Latitude continues this formula by actually continuing the previous song’s outro with a reverse mix and a shrill continuation of a high chord, it’s a short segue track to number 5. I would say that Sink or Swim ramps up the tempo but it’s a solid mid-tempo song spotlighted with a great drum-centric intro straight into heavy vocals and the same/similar guitar riff that’s been a constant current throughout the previous tracks. There’s a definite pattern to the songs but I wouldn’t say they’re formulaic but I can see that Swallow The Ocean planned these songs as a continuous listening session, something that takes a lot of balls and planning.

After track two, Amphibian, it seems like the lyrics of each successive song revolve around a never-ending battle with Satan and/or sin. However, the lyrics of Sink or Swim seem to revolve around the lack of a savior but choosing to roaming the sea floor for eternity. Since I don’t have a printed sheet of the lyrics around and Amphibian’s lyrics are the only ones officially published, I’m taking guessing at lyrical themes here. I would’ve gone for a more Leviathan/Kraken villain but that may be too cliche for this nautical-themed album.

Hands Folded, Eyes to the Sky, track seven, is definitely the most laid back track on the album. For about two minutes. Then it’s back into pummeling riffs and the heavy high hat action although the bass lines have definitely taken a bigger backseat in the latter half of the album. Fast forward to about 4 minutes and you’re treated to more up-tempo guitars where the band really shines on the culmination of the entire album, it’s definitely a climax that you’d want to leave the listener with. Huge riffs with vocals all over the place, they lay it all on the line in their oceanic battle. The final track, It’s Safe To Sleep Now, is the somber and appropriate outro to an album that never gets too fast and heavy but stays right in the middle of too slow and face-shredding fast. Two blissful minutes of synths and feedback.

Overall, the musicianship on this entire album is astounding for a young band. This post-metal progressive sound melded with a great theme envelope the listener, giving them an idea of what a bad ass metal ocean may sound like at any given time. They’ve got a huge sound that lacks a lot of distortion or feedback but still manages to sound huge, tsunami huge. Great segues with slow and cool to blasting riffs that never teeter too far on the speed gauge. If you’re a fan of guys like Rosetta (and you damn well should be) or ISIS, you will pick up Swallow The Ocean’s self-titled debut from Forgotten Empire Records and feel right at home sonically. I highly recommend this album. -by

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My friend was telling me about this band.
I guess I'll take his and your word for it.
I was just so skeptical 'cause most post-metal bands I've come across sound THE SAME. Big problem with the post-genres nowadays.