Graves at Sea / Sourvein – Split EP (Seventh Rule Recordings, 13 May 2014)
Sourvein – Aquatic Occult (Metal Blade, 08 April 2016)
Hello and good afternoon, longtime friends and first-time visitors. I hope your Monday has been, at minimum, tolerable. From this side, “Today I didn’t even have to strangle anyone with their own phone cord or throw my computer through the cubicle wall out of frustration / I got to say it was a good day.”
Anyway, whatever kind of day you’re having, get ready for some positive, uplifting vibes to be coming your way from the music I have here to share with you. Now, that music is going to start with Graves at Sea, and for those who’ve heard the full-length they put out earlier this month (reviewed here), you’ll be able to tell right away that last statement was at least partly sarcastic. (For those who haven’t heard it, what the hell are you waiting for? Go read that review, or even better, check them out in person during their tour that starts tonight in Atlanta!)
The remainder of this article will be about material — some of it a couple years old, some from just a few days ago — by the southern sludgery cesspit Sourvein; although it may not seem that way, this is (supposedly) where the positivity comes into the equation. Or at least truthfulness and realism. Off we go …
For starters, let’s take a look at this split EP that Seventh Rule unleashed upon the world nearly two years ago. This monstrous release was the last thing to come from either Graves at Sea or Sourvein prior to each band’s full-length that came out earlier this month (The Curse That Is on Friday the first [which was reviewed here], and Aquatic Occult on Friday the eighth [which will be reviewed in another paragraph or two], respectively). Recorded by Billy Anderson (which totally makes sense), side A, the Graves at Sea side, includes two songs that total about fifteen minutes; both of these are in a similar style to the band’s recent full-length, foreboding and intimidating, moderately slow and heavy as hell, and filled with those sickeningly venomous duelling vocals. Lyrically, these songs are about as close as you’re likely to find to the exact opposite of an uplifting, positive message: “Betting on Black,” for example, represents the absolute epitome of pessimism, including the refrain “born into this world of shit and then you die.”
The flip side — produced and recorded by Mike Dean of Corrosion of Conformity (which also totally makes sense) finds Sourvein‘s ever-revolving lineup — which has existed in some form or another for over twenty years now (since 1993) — reduced to founding vocalist/guitarist Troy “T-Roy” Medlin with help from Order of the Owl‘s Dwayne Jones on drums. These three songs (around thirteen minutes altogether) basically run the gamut of styles in which this band dabbles: from lots of fuzz with heavy blues riffs (“Drifter”), to more psychedelic, swimming in wah and reverb, and with almost-wistful-sounding vocals (“Equinox”), to a much darker, doom metal style (“Follow the Light”).
Despite enduring “poverty, the deaths of friends and family, bouts of severe depression, periods of alcohol abuse, and an absence of the stability provided by a consistent record label,” in the words of band friend Randy Blythe in their current press bio, “T-Roy has over the course of two decades managed to build the band into a highly respected force in the metal, doom, sludge, and crust underground.” Listening to the brand-new Aquatic Occult, these words definitely ring true: these songs clearly have been borne of a man who has really seen some shit. Speaking of the meaning behind his material, Medlin opined, “you need to feel the pain, cause it’s real. There is more to life than numbing yourself and escaping. The lyrics are reality to me; I write about the sacrifice and struggle, but I want it to be positive, to let people know that there is a way out of bad times and tough situations.” He further elaborated, “Man, it’s not all peace and love, but yeah it’s positive; it’s just not coming from a negative place anymore. You’ve got to feel alive, and life sometimes includes pain. Masking it doesn’t do any good, because it’s still there. It’s better to live and feel it.”
Consisting of fourteen tracks averaging about three minutes each, Aquatic Occult often has a fuller-sounding arrangement than the somewhat stripped-down split that preceded it, while also sounding a bit more disjointed or disoriented at times. Fitting with the band’s long history — this is their fourth full-length record (notwithstanding countless EPs and splits), and Metal Blade is the fourth different label to put out one of those records — once again the make-up of the band has drastically shifted. This time (as far as I can tell) T-Roy has surrounded himself with whomever happened to be nearby the studio at the time of the recording, including the occasional bass contributed by Mike Dean (who again helmed the recording console) — most prominently on “Ocypuss.” Dean‘s COC bandmate Reed Mullin pops up a few times on the drums as well, and guest vocals come courtesy of Mr. Blythe and myriad other co-conspirators.
Primarily down-tempo and not particularly energetic, these songs remain relentless in their pummelling expressions of misery and despair. It seems that, after years spent hitchhiking across the country or crammed into a rusty old van, peddling southern-fried stoner-haze nightmares, a return to his hometown in Cape Fear, NC — with its rich history of pirate lore — has really imprinted its influence on the direction Medlin would take this new material. Besides the song titles (“Hymn to Poseidon,” “Mermaids,” “Capsized,” etc.), the sound of the album itself seems heavily nautical: without ever being too overt about it, here and there the heavily distorted guitars sometimes have overtones that are reminiscent of crashing waves, or perhaps a ship’s horn echoing through the foggy night; in other places (“Bermuda Sundown,” for instance) the vocals themselves take on a rather waterlogged-sounding quality; and finally, closing track “Oceanic Procession,” in addition to a sinister organ part (reportedly also contributed by Blythe), ends with sounds very similar to the PING of sonar, before a rush of static pours over everything like a rising tide. With the aquatic theme serving as a metaphor for whatever someone should happen to be drowning in — debt, addiction, depression, grief — it can often be difficult to see the brighter side. But perhaps that is the message to be found here: much of the time things do seem ugly and negative, that’s just a part of real life; even if the best we can hope for is to slog through it and “live another twenty-four,” simply the fact that we do make it through ok may be enough to look back and say “it was a good day.”
The split EP is available in MP3, CD, or vinyl format here, and one track from each band can be previewed in the Bandcamp player below. Aquatic Occult is available in the same three formats here, and you can hear the whole thing via Bandcamp, below.
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