Review Summary: This isn't just music: it's one of the most melancholic, depressing yet uplifting and inspiring hours you'll ever experience. And if you enjoy music, you'll experience this hour hundreds and hundreds of times because that's how amazing this record truly i7 of 9 thought this review was well written
Why do we listen to music? Purely for enjoyment? Maybe to try and learn something from it? Sentimental value? The answer varies with each and every person in this world. I try and get something out of my music since I believe there has to be a deeper meaning in anything and everything. So when I encountered a super-deep album I can listen to for possibly months on end (Sound Awake and El Cielo, both of which I have posted 5 reviews of) I am immediately enthralled by each and every nook and cranny of the album, whether it's a keyboard riff, a certain drum fill, a super-nice melodic guitar line or even an entire song, the album will never cease to amaze me. Even the more dragging boring parts will reveal their beauty at some point in my digestion of the music, and it's albums like this that make me appreciate music in all its glory because for all the bad music there is (and ladies and gentlemen, there is a LOT of bad music out there) there are flawless, shining diamonds in the rough like maudlin of the Well's "Bath". The creation of avant-garde mastermind Toby Driver, motW has an unfortunately short discog containing of only 4 albums and 33 songs but I have never found a flaw with any of them. Toby is truly a master songwriter, but he would argue that the term "songwriter" would not exactly describe him. Much of "Bath" was written through the practice of astral projection and lucid dreaming. Toby would argue that he found the music of "Bath" rather than wrote it. This may sound like a crazy concept but here's the thing: it works in ways you could never imagine unless you've heard this album.
To simply describe the music contained in this 60 minutes and 8 seconds is purely impossible. There is so much variety in these 10 songs that it's difficult to keep track. Throughout 1 hour you'll hear influences ranging from folk and acoustic to at least 6 types of extreme metal. Driver really knows how to put together the metal sections, usually favoring sludge/doom metal riffs giving the music an eerie atmosphere over his guttural growls. The guitars during the metal sections stay surprisingly clean, containing a heavy doomy sound without distortion, something that is definitely very difficult to do in metal. Double-bass drumming is common, but it's not distasteful and at 212 bpm just for the sake of having it at 212 bpm: the bass drumming contains an excellent sense of technicality and finesse while drummer Sam Gutterman's hand work is heavily influenced by jazz: even during the most brutal moments of this bipolar masterpiece he could be plugging away at a swing beat: that's just the way "Bath" works. The bass is aggressive but not very busy during the metal sections but where the bass really shines is during the acoustic tracks like the interludes. During these sections a stand-up acoustic bass is used and the desolate plucks are just plain gorgeous. And that's just the main lineup of instruments. You'll hear tons of other instrumentation during this album like saxophones, trumpets, clarinets, church organs and flutes. Another constant of the album is ambience flowing between the tracks. The lonely, pleading splashing of water is the one constant throughout the melancholy barren landscape of "Bath". The album really isolates you with its sudden mood swings, truly depressing yet beautiful acoustic sections and unrelenting metal sections, and when the watery footsteps kick in you feel as though whoever is walking along that shore is your only companion, the only person who could possibly save you from this horrifying atmosphere you've immersed yourself into.
To give you an example of how truly diverse this album can be, let's look at opening instrumental song "The Blue Ghost/Shedding Qliphoth". Beginning with a quiet, mournful strummed guitar, the song slowly evolves until a saxophone and an acoustic guitar join and create one of the finest, most gorgeous melodies i've heard in all my years on this planet. This melody soon regresses back into the depressing soundscape of before until the drums swoop in and guide the song back into more melodic uplifting territory. The song continues in this amazing dynamically impressive way until the final minute when the sparing use of distorted guitars kicks in creating the first metal section, and in my opinion the best. While Driver's metal vocals are incredible, they actually have to be absent to show you how amazing maudlin of the Well is at playing a metal riff. The guitars are clean and gliding, but brutal and forceful: the bass is aggressively slapped: the drums are played with slow, steady unrelenting double-bass kicks, the always-constant splashing open hi-hat and the always loud-but-not-overbearing jazzy-sounding snare drum: and this is all within the album's first 8 minutes.
To describe every sound in this album would be futile and would probably result in enough words to write a novel. However there are some standout moments among this incredibly diverse landscape: "They Aren't All Beautifull" is really the only full-on metal track on the album, with Driver shrieking at you to "GOUGE HIS EYES" while the band plays their signature breed of metal riffs behind him: however, maudlin of the Well relies on dynamics heavily. After about 16 or so bars of unrelenting metal during this track, a slow electric strum will lull you gently into a trance before not 2 seconds later when Driver is shrieking once more. "Marid's Gift of Art" is probably the most gorgeous 4 minutes of music ever put to tape: the slow splashing of the water lures you into a soft acoustic hook before Driver's amazing falsetto kicks in. This song has the best lyrics on the album and a 90-second outro that will blow your mind with its beauty. "Birth Pains of Astral Projection" is a 10-minute epic that defines motW. The crushing brutal metal sections. The slow electric sections. The aggressive bass playing. The dense double-kicks. The wind instruments. The death growls. The flawless falsetto. It's all there, and it most certainly delivers. "Birth Pains" is by far motW's best song and Driver's crowning achievement as a songwriter to date. "Geography" is the best album closer I've ever heard. Following a similar formula as "The Blue Ghost", the song begins with a slow acoustic guitar backed by a mournful string section and Toby's amazing clean vocals, before the final 2 minutes of the song turns it into an anthemic masterpiece with the string section playing wildly and erratically but with grace and musicality, and the several tracks of electric guitar playing off of each other to form one of the most fantastic melodies in recent memory. The track ends with 45 seconds of silence: it will invariably take a while to realize that "Bath" has run its course. Like I said in the opening paragraph, even the more boring moments of the album will show their beauty in time. Example: when I first got the album, the ending of "The Ferryman" just appalled me. At first listen it sounded like a bunch of zombies masturbating, but now I can appreciate it's transition into "Marid's Gift of Art" and the melancholy emotions the transition gives off.
"Bath" is a flawless album. I can't say that about many albums but this is truly one of the finest pieces of music I've ever listened to in my life. It's often thought of as the calmer, more challenging album to "Leaving Your Body Map"'s abrasive, relentless metallic soundscapes, but the truth is both have their amazing delicate moments and their jaw-dropping showcases of musical brutality. Just get both of them, it'll be one of the most satisfying purchases you'll ever make.