The Sunken Funeral: An Exploration of Undiscovered Oceanic Doom with Shades of Deep Water and Estrangement

Although it may have been overshadowed by an expanding knowledge of the outer universe and the coming of air travel and internet alike, the sea is still a potent symbol of the faraway, the unknown, even the unknowable. It’s vast, dark, and as tempestuous and fickle as often as it is boon bringing. It also happens to be an appropriate place for funeral doom to lay it’s sullen eyes on. After all, where would the Great Old Ones be without the unfathomable sea? Where would Thergothon be without the Great Old Ones? Where would funeral doom be without Thergothon? With this in mind, I steeled myself for insanity in search of further esoteric beings lurking in the deep, returning to you now with tales of two obscure but highly worthy practitioners of the oceanic funeral arts: Shades of Deep Water, representing the straight-forward and solid side of the genre, and Estrangement, bringing out the atmospheric and experimental tones of the the strangest of doom.

Shades of Deep Water – Waterways
cover
Waterways doesn’t hesitate to immerse the listener into it’s cold and dismal waters with the grave-trudging riff and brooding melody of “Lifeless Surroundings”. The approach is barebones, with no vocals, uncomplicated drum-work, and thick but plain distortion coating the riffs. Several moments of clean, reverb drenched guitars add some color, even if it’s only more tones of dreary gray, to ensure it’s misty pallor doesn’t loosen it’s grip with too much repetition. With the tone set, Shades of Deep Water proceeds to soak you to the bones with little relent. Their preferred attack is crushing the listener into submission with waves of lumbering riffs and despondent growls before dragging them into the depths with dolorous melodies. It’s a simple but effective approach, helped immensely by the band’s good sense of when to vary things up and when to stick with a good riff.

The tracks have an average of around five and a half minutes; a testament to Shades of Deep Water’s controlled sense of restraint, and while they are all aesthetically cohesive, each song is memorable in it’s own right. The slowed-down heavy metal of “Coast to Coast”, the disheartened singing of “Constant Pressure”, and the anxious, fragile clean-guitar outro of “Stay Shadows” add a near perfect level of diversity to Waterways; interesting yet never flashy and always consistent in tone.

That specific mood and aesthetic does a lot to make Waterways itself stand out. Underground metal has changed a lot since the early 90’s, and whether you’re examining the “dark germanic heathenism” of the Scythes of Death label, the esoteric occultism of Blus Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega, the deep ecology of the Cascadian bands, or one of countless other explorations, it’s a genre that has greatly expanded both the breadth and complexity of themes it’s willing to tackle. It’s a healthy and necessary maturation of the subculture, but there are times when it can start to feel ridiculously complex at best and awkwardly pompous at worst. Shades of Deep Water forgoes the academics, politics, and pontifications and offer up something that’s satisfyingly direct and uncomplicated. The music speaks for itself, while the maritime aesthetic provides a shallow but suitable canvas for the riffs to unfold over.  A healthy dose of Engrish adds a certain charm to the simplistic but serviceable lyrics; usually decipherable in the growls.

I’m tempted to call this a solid album, but the more I listen and consider it, the more apparent it becomes that it’s on a higher level than that. It’s straightforward composition is very simple relative to what more ambitious bands like Esoteric or Mournful Congregation have been up to for the last few years, but there’s something to be said for a concise approach to a genre that’s often characterized by an excessive, some might even say pretentious, attitude towards songwriting.  Waterways is drowning in tangible atmosphere and a dramatically sullen mood without relying on electronic ambiance, complex themes, or epic track lengths, and there’s something incredibly refreshing about a funeral doom album that can stand on it’s riffs alone. Don’t hesitate at the docks for this harrowing journey into the north seas.

Self-released

Estrangement – Belong Beneath
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Hailing from Australia, Estrangement was doomed (The only pun you’ll hear from me ever again, I promise) from the beginning to be judged in the shadow of diSEMBOWELMENT. It doesn’t help that this new act is clearly drinking deep from the well of their experimental, funereal ancestors, but it’s not a bad well to be drinking from in the first place. Fortunately for this reviewer’s tired ears, Estrangement aren’t mere imitators. Instead, I found quite an mysterious and enthralling, but rough around the edges world to sink into on this demo.

If Waterways was a dismal journey across the sea, Belong Beneath is where the seafarer’s might end up after rounding the horn of Africa, passing into the warmer climes of the southeast Pacific, crashing their vessel into a coral reef, and probably taking a lot of mushrooms while they’re at it. Are you still with me? Okay here’s something more tangible for you: “Disentanglement (of sound from mind)” opens the demo with spacy, almost prog-rock guitar noodling and a crooning cello. It has a light and airy feel to it that has more of a relation to Tangerine Dream esque Kozmische meanderings than it does to funeral doom lulls before the storm. The storm is coming though; the peace is broken by a comatose (in the right way) funereal riff blasting out from nowhere. It’s joined by appropriately minimalistic drumming and a droning synth line. At this point I’m well prepared for DOOM, but Estrangement lets this moment fade away into another psychedelic, even jazzy section before the real descent begins with blaring organs, a howling scream, and pure despair-driven funeral riffs, heavy as the bottom of the ocean and as slow as the ticking minutes of your life.

The riffs during these doomier moments aren’t exceptional or particularly memorable, but they get the job done, and before the listener knows it they’ve carried them to a folksy, rather beautiful section of acoustic guitars, ghostly vocals, and sorrowful cello. It’s merely another moment of false calm though, rising up into an explosive, almost black metal feeling tremolo riff replete with soaring melodies carried by both the guitars and the cello. Two surprisingly epic solos with a somewhat uneasy balance between shredding and emotive phrasing ascend out of this moment before the song breaks again into another underwater ambient section and then finally concludes in the traditional funeral doom sound.

Estrangement manages to work all of that into an eight-and-a-half minute song, and to be honest it’s on the knife-edge between ‘gorgeous kaleidoscopic aural vision’ and ‘bit of a mess, eh?’. It isn’t helped that the production feels uneven, so that the crackly and crunchy distortion and horror-movie organs feel out of place in close proximity to the smooth as mermaid-hair sound of the calmer and more ambient parts, but that’s forgivable in the context of a demo. I’m not convinced it’s a textural thing alone though. Estrangement are clearly highly talented musicians and composers; they not only comfortably handle several different styles on this demo, they excel at them, and Belong Beneath comes across as a band that is perhaps a bit too self-conscious of it. That is to say: there are moments, especially in the blazing fast solos, that come off as considerably more flashy than they are actually necessary for the compositions. This leads to a sense of things being crammed together in a way; a host of brilliant ideas that don’t necessarily have the space necessary for them to fully develop.

The other primary track, “Infinitesimal Spark” does feel more together. It sticks closer to the doom side of Estrangement’s sound, and I love the diSEMBOWELMENT style contrast between crawling doom and grinding death riffs. It still has it’s share of over-extravagance in it’s solos, but, here and in “Disentanglement…” that flashiness is only ever a blemish, not a derailing factor for the demo. If you can look past those flaws, you should find Belong Beneath to be an excellent release, submerged in as much potential as already-present creativity, tangible emotion, and distinguishing atmosphere. It’s an exciting introduction to this band, and I’ll be eagerly anticipating hearing how Estrangement grows and refines their sound into the future. -Jake

Aurora Australis

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~ by jakemoran on October 9, 2013.

3 Responses to “The Sunken Funeral: An Exploration of Undiscovered Oceanic Doom with Shades of Deep Water and Estrangement”

  1. Nice. I like that idea of the vast oceans as the last truly undiscovered places on earth, full of profound mystery and wonder. Shades of Deep Water hits the spot, Estrangement sounds promising but not quite there yet. Now where have I seen that Estrangement album cover before? It’s gorgeous!

  2. Its by a Russian symbolist painter Ilya Repin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilya_Repin, I’ve always loved it to, I first came across it in a book I have on the Symbolist movement. Its based on the folklore of Sadko famously parodied in an episode of MST3K http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoIZC3JmPh8

  3. Interesting. And pretty funny… Never heard of MST3K before. Thanks!

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