(Andy Synn provides this review of the latest album by The Drowning from Wales.)
For those of you unfamiliar with Welsh Death/Doom disciples The Drowning, allow me to provide a quick introduction – forming in 2003, and releasing their debut EP, Withered, in 2005, the band have thus far produced three (now four) albums of impressively potent, though widely underappreciated, doom-laden delights which largely eschew the genre’s more gothic leanings in favour of a more vigorous, riff-based approach – albeit one still swathed in layers of sombre melody and creeping gloom – that’s a little less My Dying Bride and a little more Novembers Doom in sound and style.
In that same spirit of introduction it’s probably also worth offering up a quick a word of warning as well. At an hour and six minutes in total, and with an average song length which hovers around the eight-and-a-half minute mark (not counting brief intro track “Dolor Saeculi”), the band’s new album, Senescent Signs, is certainly a significant endeavour, and one not necessarily best-suited for those simply in search of a quick fix of melancholy to (un)brighten their day.
However, that doesn’t make it a ponderous listen. In fact, for the most part, these eight tracks (and one intro) pack more than enough of a punch (not to mention a solemn sense of gloomy glamour) to render this album capable of going toe-to-toe with the best of them.
With that in mind I should probably point out that this particular style (or sub-style) can be incredibly hard to do in a distinctive or unique manner. After all, there are hundreds upon hundreds of bands out there plying their own take on the doomy melody + deathly intensity formula, and only a relative handful of those ever really manage to establish their own individuality above and beyond that of their peers.
That’s not necessarily a criticism of their abilities, or their competence, by the way. Simply an acknowledgement that not every band necessarily has the “x-factor” necessary to make them a leader or a legend in their own lifetime.
And yet, somewhat counter-intuitively, the reason that The Drowning stand out from the crowd, to my ears at least, is precisely because of how singularly focussed they are on the real core tenets and defining elements of the Death/Doom sound we’ve all come to love over the years.
Yes, there are splashes of subtle orchestration and twinkling piano scattered here and there and, yes, both “House of the Tragic Poet” and “The Lament of Faustus” do employ touches of ethereal female clean vocals to great effect, but the majority of Senescent Signs is built firmly around a solid and unyielding foundation of bruising, brooding, bombastic riffs and thunderous, growling vocals.
The grimly infectious riffage which underpins tracks such as the storming “Broken Before the Throne” or the redoubtable “Dawn of Sorrow”, for example, has a palpable weight and presence to it, with every pulse-quickening passage of dreary distortion augmented by a veritable plethora of weaving, weeping guitar leads and bleak, nuanced hooks, while even the more patient and penitent numbers – such as the desolately dynamic “Betrayed By God” and the aforementioned “House of the Tragic Poet” – possess a sense of energy and vigour quite uncharacteristic of the majority of the band’s rivals and peers.
And it’s this energy, this sensation of lightning captured in a bottle, which really helps separate The Drowning from the rest of the pack.
They’re not necessarily doing anything that drastically different from those around them, it’s true, but the Welsh quintet (now featuring the colossal growl of new frontman Matt Small) successfully imbue every track with a sense of electricity and distinct identity which helps makes each one a compelling and immersive listen, from start to finish.
So here’s another warning – be prepared to lose a LOT of time to this album. Because once you hit “play” there’s every chance you’re going to get sucked in. Just remember to take a deep breath before you do. You’ll need it.
Senescent Signs was released on June 3 by Casket Music. It’s available through Bandcamp.