(Michigan’s seafaring Dagon have set sail again after seven years ashore, and DGR follows along in their wake like a gleeful porpoise with this detailed review.)
Few albums out there start with a song quite as victorious as Dagon’s Back To The Sea does. Its title track is an anthemic opening number, leading off the lengthy excursion back into the world of nautically themed melo-death from the Lansing, Michigan based group after a seven-year absence. Holding more thinly veiled symbolism than one might expect from a band who’ve made their headway in the metal scene by pulling tales from mythology, the history of piracy, and general apocalyptic tales of the ocean, the song “Back To The Sea” quickly throws aside all pretention in favor of a quick-moving guitar part and a constant refrain of “going back, back to the sea!”, which is an event that has been a long time coming for fans of the band.
The comeback disc is a hard trick to execute, but after a succesful crowdfunding campaign (which we posted about here, mostly to get folks some foam shark fins because the merchandising opportunity amused us) the group, who had developed a bit of a cult following after the release of their 2009 album Terraphobic and its followup EP, 2011’s Vindication, have managed to do just that. Back To The Sea contains 13 songs of hydro-powered, lead-guitar-charged melodeath led by a combo of cat-shrieking highs from drummer Truck and hefty low growls from bassist Randall, and while it’s not exactly breaking the mold genre-wise, it proves to be a whole hell of a lot of fun.
You do have to commend Dagon for commitment to their craft. Seven years since their last release and it is like the band never stopped writing; judging by the amount of material present on Back To The Sea, you could also pretty much assume the same fact. Clocking in at a weighty hour and eight minutes — a runtime usually reserved for a fast one-song doom album — Back To The Sea gets plenty of mileage out of the words, fathoms, seas, and depths, with a joking count of the word “Sea” in particular going well into the double-digits by the time song six rolls around. Of course, it’s what Dagon do best, weaving intricate tales of battles with pirates, battles amongst ships, many floods, and anything in between, so long as it is oceanic. To expect anything less from a group returning to life in such a spectuclar fashion would come off ridiculous.
Back To The Sea is a roller-coaster on that front, given the sheer breadth of material present. Dagon manage to create a pretty even split between faster and mid-tempo songs while still packing in a prog-rock, epic-length song into the end of the disc. Even without the hefty seven minutes of that closer, “Erased By Fathoms”, Back To The Sea would still run more than an hour. Earlier epic “The Battle Of Lepanto” helps contribute on that front as well, being the other heavyweight on the tracklisting.
At times, Back To The Sea is almost pyrotechnic, making each song into an event, more than just a collection of really, really, really (we assure you…) catchy guitar parts. The band work cannon-fire into a song at one point, in case you weren’t awake during the general battle that had been happening throughout the song by that point.
The aforementioned “Back To The Sea” song is an early highlight, with a raucous galloping guitar and drum rhythm to march things forward. As mentioned before, it proves to be the anthem by which the album that bears its name blueprints. It is partially celebratory, partially declarative, and all headbanging front-to-back. It has Dagon finding a quick-moving groove and settling into it, which tends to be where the band are at their best, with interchanging vocal lines helping to make the already fast songs more dynamic.
The first three songs of Back To The Sea feel like a subtle recognition of this fact, with Dagon barely slowing down to breathe as they barrel through the victorious “Back To The Sea”, to the muderous shark adventures of “A Feast Of Flesh For Silent Death”, and through the first of many captaincy adventures during “The Dog Of The Sea” — whose thematic elements pop up many times throughout the album as a whole, so much so that the actual “dog of the sea” phrase reappears a couple of times throughout the album, making the disc feel like it is folding back in on itself sometimes.
“The Captain’s Creed” especially feels like a song that runs side-by-side with “Dog Of The Sea”, except it’s a little bit more death metal in its speed than “Dog’s” melodic flavorings. In the latter half of the album, you have the appearance of “Thralldom To The Crossbones”, which comes off as something of a spiritual successor in pacing and writing to one of the better songs on the group’s Terraphobic album, the lightning-fast “Full Speed Ahead”. ‘Thralldom” is one of the album’s highlights; it is a joy to get the circle-pit going in one’s mind while the song rips and roars its way through your speakers.
Back To The Sea also contains legitimate sequels, which is always an interesting development in the metal scene, one usually reserved for the more progressively-minded acts out there as they add another chapter to their ongoing stories. On Back To The Sea, the purpose is two-fold. One part sees them returning to Terraphobic’s “Ocean Metal” for the aptly titled “Ocean Metal II’, which quickly breaks out the high-sung “ocean metal” chorus that was initially only something that popped up in the very last part of the earlier song. “Ocean Metal II” is Dagon at their most pure and fun-loving, with the group clearly getting as much joy out of returning to the goofiness of “Ocean Metal” as the fans undoubtedly will.
The second purpose has the band joining the previously mentioned prog-minded acts, with a sequel to “The Triton’s Daughter” from Vindication — an epic song in its own right – in”Blood For Gold (The Triton’s Daughter Part 2)”. The quicker moving death-metal-meets-progressive-era-Iron Maiden feeling of that earlier song remains in full force here, bass-driven melodies in the opening bits and all. Divorced from its overall concept, “Blood For Gold” is already a fast chugger of a song that helps breathe some life into the back of the disc. Its only curse is that it directly follows the glorious tongue-in-cheek heaviness of “Ocean Metal II”.
While Back To The Sea traverses many nautical miles in the fast-moving and headbang-anthem realm, it does also run just a little long, with some of the tracks sticking around just long enough to have you start checking your watch. “Spirit On The Water”, for instance, is probably the biggest victim of this, especially since it commits the innocent crime of being in front of a packed three-fer that closes the album, i.e., ‘Ocean Metal II”, “Blood For Gold”, and Back To The Sea’s epic apocalypse by tsunami and flood, “Erased By Fathoms”. The staid pace at which the song moves is fine enough, but once it rolls into its last two minutes and you reach the final chorus of its title, you can’t help but start feeling a little restless.
It’s a song that has a little bit too much fat, but it’s hard to tell where it should have been trimmed, because pulling out any specific spot would make the whole “Spirit” track feel like a lesser creation — something you don’t want to do with the album’s closest-as-they’ll-get to a ballad track. The other slower-moving tracks, like the thudding and percussive “Walk The Plank”, help break up the more breathless moments on the disc, whereas “Spirit” unfortunately slows down the back side for just a bit too long.
Despite Back To The Sea’s sheer heft, it is absolutely worth a deep dive, one that will submerge you in a glorious world of guitar leads whose count rises fast enough to give one the bends, a bass-driven rhythm section rumbling low enough to reach the Marianas trench, and a pounding drum presence that time and time again throughout the album provides a war-drum segment to drive their many battleship songs ever onwards, all of that captained by a double-prong vocal attack.
Every Dagon trademark is in place here and in full play for all of the album. Seven years since the group’s last recorded release, and Dagon have managed to return victorious, with an hour and eight minutes worth of plunder to share. It’s a little bit of an investment with that hefty tracklisting, but there are so many times throughout Back To The Sea when you can’t help but be excited as the band cannon into the next track, the smoke of gunpowder from the previous song still lingering in their wake. They stick pretty close to the foundations that made the band what they are, and execute upon them perfectly. And in doing that they highlight why a lot of people have enjoyed their many travails across the oceans and rocked out to their music over and over again.
Back To The Sea is a fantastic addition to Dagon’s discography and an enthsuiastic recommendation, especially if you’re looking for a fun collection of headbangers in your future.