Review Summary: Well played death/doom, uninhibited by the genre’s limitations.
Hailing from Wales, The Drowning play a fresh and invigorating form of death/doom, devoid of the genre’s watered down gothic rubbish. Although not quite complying to the typical style a doom influenced death metal band would have, i.e. they retain a strong sense of melody, This Bleak Descent
contains a heavy atmosphere, filled with crushing riffs and fluid guitar lines. In this regard, it’s hard not to really like The Drowning; they do their very best to avoid sounding like anybody else, and there is a definite addictive quality to their music, beyond all of its shortcomings. It’s unfortunate, however, as the album’s apparent success leaves greater room to scrutinize its weaknesses, and these stick out like a sore thumb. They aren’t strong enough to completely detract from This Bleak Descent
’s positives, but to avoid them would be to avoid vital portions of the album overall.
To make sure your attention is held from the very beginning, the album opens with an immense and powerful track, ‘Blackened Weave’, perhaps the album’s strongest point. An epic feel surrounds the first few seconds as the twiddly lead immediately injects life into the song, before it descends into a double kick driven riff so catchy you can’t help but flip your head, wearing a maniacal grin. The variety of riffs on the album are all rather well thought out, ranging from slower, more melodic and ponderous rhythms to faster and greatly energized riffs that constantly stick in your head, such as the beginning of the short yet effective ‘Forever Fall’. The album’s somewhat hollow production suits its sound, giving its lower end guitar lines more room to resonate and ultimately allowing the album to sound far heavier than it actually is.
‘Soulless Harvest’ picks up where the introductory track left off, and is basically comprised of one colossal and awesome riff, and an extraordinarily irritating guitar lead. The balance between the two guitar parts is good on the track, as it is elsewhere on the album; however, as is the case on ‘Soulless Harvest’, certain melodic lines are too simple for their own good and are oftentimes repeated to the extent that they become annoying. It’s obvious that the band has made an effort to sound epic, and in a way ambitious; their overall sound reflects this intent, but on certain tracks their method is not always appropriate. In regard to ‘Soulless Harvest’, the song is far longer than it needs to be, and had it been made shorter, its potency would have increased tenfold.
Nevertheless, although repetition exists to an extent within the songs, a good balance is achieved between heavy and soft, wonderfully portrayed by ‘In the Fields of Solace’. Beginning with a snippet of clean notes, the song gets its doom on and pounds out slow, melodic riffs with a penetrating, meandering guitar melody played over the top. The track is the longest on the album, and shows a slower and more wistful side of The Drowning, as opposed to their fiery entry with ‘Blackened Weave’. Even so, midway through the track the band delivers a ‘breakdown’ of sorts; a slight pause before exploding into a face crushing riff, while James Moore screams to add to the moment's effect.
Referring back to the so called repetition that was mentioned earlier, the band’s biggest shortcoming comes in the way the songs, and more broadly the album, is structured. This is probably nitpicking on my behalf, but the album can often feel very formulaic; asides from repeating riffs for too long, the plain nature of the guitar leads, when they aren’t infusing themselves at a high level with the riffs, makes the album a little less captivating. Certain instances of unpredictability, such as the aforementioned mid section of ‘In the Fields of Solace’, really add to the album’s longevity, but at times one can feel like the album just goes on for too long, repeating similar ideas and musical themes.
In another slight unique twist, The Drowning’s set of vocal chords, James Moore, sounds nothing like your typical death/doom vocalist. His gutturals are dense, to an extent, but have a very noticeable rasp, sounding terribly dry and probably feeling painful on Moore’s behalf. They’re definitely tolerable, but it’s hard not to sometimes wish for a deeper rumbling in terms of vocals; heavier moments on tracks like ‘Forever Fall’ and ‘Flowers for the Fallen’ tend to feel lacklustre in terms of brutality. This is not to say that Moore is guilty of not trying, as he does go low quite often, but his raspy voice limits his potency on the lower half of the gutturals scale. Even so, his higher screams are rather good, adding another layer of individuality to the band’s sound.
And that is a very good note to finish on: individuality. If anything, the album is a resounding success because it tries to be diverse, and sounds good in the process. Even when I was thinking about how I wish I could change certain things about the album, I’d be constantly surprised by a completely random element thrown into the mix, and superbly performed, such as the blistering guitar solo on ‘Flowers for the Fallen’, or the moody closer, ‘The Last Dance of Eve’. In reality, the reason why the glaring faults of This Bleak Descent
are so obvious is because the album is actually very good and highly enjoyable, and the listener simply focuses on its deficiencies as they sit in large contrast to the album itself. Simply put, This Bleak Descent
is a great death/doom album, highly accessible yet un-conforming to the genre’s mediocrity. Recommended.