Label: Third I Rex
The problem with a lot of bands striving for heaviness is that they don’t recognise that too much of a good thing can be a problem. It’s all well and good wanting to be the heaviest and most extreme, and there are few greater pleasures in extreme music than a finely crafted super-heavy riff; but what’s needed for such music to really work is contrast. Keeping everything turned up to 11 just results in a wall of blandness, and a kind of super-heavy ambiance that lacks the desired impact. Thankfully, the self-titled debut demo/EP by Boston’s Sea does not fall victim to this problem. Instead, it is a prime example of how contrasting melodic moments can make the heaviest, most dirty sludge riffs feel even more powerful – and the more ‘clean’ parts are pretty special, too.
Fittingly for a band with such a name, Sea waste almost no time pulling you in, burying you under a constant barrage of riffs that possess a distinct sense of motion, roiling and ceaseless, determined to see you submerged beneath their weight. The largely mid-paced tempos add extra heft to the songs, and there is an almost hypnotic quality to them. The relatively long length of the songs (the shortest, “Chronos”, being just over six minutes long) mean there is plenty of time for them to unfold, taking their time to reveal all they have to offer, and none of the changes and shifts are ever rushed. It’s also quite remarkable how distinct the character of each song is – they all draw from the same basic template, yet end up feeling very different. Opener “Seer” is more ominous, with rolling, thunderous drums and an almost mournful ending; middle track “Moros” adds post-rock elements, its relatively sparse nature at the beginning allowing for a more protracted build-up that comes to a thunderous head; whilst closer “Chronos” possesses a disgruntled, angry nature in its riffs, that is only enhanced when placed in contrast with the clean vocals.
If there’s one thing that this release bleeds, it’s potential. It’s almost impossible not to compare it to the likes of Baroness and Mastodon – not just for the way that Sea so successfully blend moments of utter heaviness with a real appreciation for melody and strong song-writing, but because of the way those bands evolved. Whereas what those bands did ten or so years ago was breaking relatively new ground, bringing together sludge metal with an almost pop sensibility and then moving in to more commercially palatable directions, Sea have picked up the baton to present an alternative version of history, where seven-minute long songs are the norm and the melodic elements enhance the heaviness, rather than vice versa. Moreover, the clean, more melodic sections still retain a sense of dirt, being more 90’s grunge than straight-forward pop. And, perhaps most importantly of all, Sea actually possess a vocalist who can sing, handling both the clean vocals and heavier shouts with real talent (I mean, I love Baroness’ records, but no one could say John Baizley’s singing is all that great (powerful, yes, but not great); and as for Mastodon, the vocals have always been the weak link).
To make the above clear: I’m not praising Sea based on their commercial potential. For sure, there’s the feeling they could go on and, with the right kind of promotion (and shorter songs), become a real big name in mainstream metal. Rather, there’s the feeling throughout the demo that the band have vast reserves of creative potential, and this demo is only the first indication of that. They display an understanding of how to balance different elements so that they enhance one another in ways that is all too rare within sludge, making this release one that a lot of other bands could learn from. Yet as excellent and enjoyable as this release is, it’s hard not to suspect that Sea’s best days are ahead of them, and I eagerly await to see what they produce next.
Sea can be streamed, downloaded, and purchased on CD via Bandcamp.