Review Summary: A tale of death growls, melodic doom and post metal soundscapes.
Picking albums of the year is always an arduous task. The overwhelming amount of albums released inevitably means that one or another is going to get left out of listening when it doesn’t deserve to be. On the flip side, plenty of albums are picked that don’t deserve the honor at all. For me, at least, albums of the year have to blend quality with originality or innovation. In 2007, Novembers Doom’s The Novella Reservoir brought a new meaning to the word “heavy” and sonically crushed everything in its path; OM’s Pilgrimage, while not their best effort, still displayed that a 2 person band can sound fuller than many 5 piece acts today; and After Forever’s self titled album set a new standard of excellence for the gothic symphonic metal scene.
Although 2008 still has a ways to go, some albums already have my vote. Draining The Waterheart, the sophomore album by Chilean death/doom act Mar De Grises, is such an album. The group’s first album, The Tatterdemalion Express, didn’t really do too much for me. Sure, it was a decent listen, but it didn’t have much staying power, and didn’t stick out among other death/doom albums I had listened to.
Draining The Waterheart, on the other hand, is an exercise in brilliance. A little bit of influence from their contemporaries makes its way into the music (in particular, a Swallow The Sun-esque riff makes its appearance here and there), but the vast majority of the album’s sound is entirely the band’s own. The vocals range from standard death growls and screams to singing and muttering, all staples of the genre. Melancholic keyboards interspersed with a dual guitar base also may not seem like anything original.
Mar De Grises’s main strength, and the reason why this album sticks out so much, is the ability to blend death/doom with a glut of post-metal sensibilities. Throughout the album, delay-drenched guitar lines and an atmospheric quality not seen in any doom album I’ve ever listened to make their way into every song. Some songs, such as Fantasia
, are solely devoted to this atmosphere; a single theme weaves in and out of its 3 minutes of background noise, almost reminiscent of a glitch tune. Most of the songs have post-metal and doom metal elements in equal parts, though, and the blend makes the album one of the most original things to come down the doom metal pike in a long time. In terms of compositional ability, Mar De Grises are also head and shoulders above many acts. They aren’t afraid of key changes, and modulations occur quite a few times throughout songs, much more so than other doom contemporaries.
Even though the album has a few flaws, that doesn’t detract from its overall brilliance. Occasionally, riffs will go on for too long without enough variation, and the production isn’t the greatest. It sounds like a worse version of Agalloch’s Ashes Against The Grain, with the vocals mixed way too low. Regardless, the songwriting on here is top notch, the artistic vision is fresh and exciting, and the music is absolutely beautiful.
Album of the year contender? I certainly think so.
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