The Dead At Sea - The Dead At Sea
For fans of Mastodon, Pink Floyd, The Ocean, Kyuss and other wonderfully heavy/ambient bands.
Words: Ben Armstrong
I spent a long, long time during my years in education reading historical books, my eyes partially glazed over, trying to cram in as much information as possible to pass whatever test or exam was on the horizon. Largely, it was boring as fuck. I love The Iliad, for example, but when it gets to that bit, you know, with the meticulously cataloguing of hundreds of ships over pages and pages of text, I just wish I could be there instead. Sometimes these big historical events can’t be justified, quantified with words alone (and although movies partially remedy this fact – the majority of them are bloated, inaccurate messes). Through music though? I think it works.
The Dead At Sea are a three-piece colossus from Stourbridge, UK who have taken the epic tale of the SS Corvus, a Norwegian freight liner, sunk by Nazi U boats during WW2, as their muse for their debut record. A boat is an interesting protagonist for a concept album (although Hollywood would have you believe it doesn’t have large enough breasts) but nonetheless, the starring role is awarded to the late Mr. Corvus. The Dead At Sea don’t mess around with an origin story – walking us through its early years as a young up and comer – nor do they dwell too much on the circumstances of its tragic demise; instead the band become the boat, representing the husk and bulk of its weight through groaning twin guitars and percussive crashes across four, long tracks.
Opener SS Corvus sets the scene for this nautical journey with some gorgeous seafaring field recordings and Devin Townsend inspired clean guitar layered on top, this intro giving the impression of setting off from somewhere on serene, calm waters. Of course, things pick up – the band opting for a slow build rather than sharp loud/soft dynamics – and the song explodes into an enormous groove, its ‘chorus’. Rather than being threatening, this section feels triumphant, the sound of the Corvus on the high seas in all its glory.
From here on out, it becomes clear than the ‘songs’ mask the real purpose of the album, that is, to take the listener on one singular, forty minute adventure. Each track ebbs and flows like the tides, building slowly from the ground up, and crushes you with a barrage of riffs only when it’s good and ready. 9 Knots (approximately 10.4mph – fairly fast for a big boat I reckon) definitely takes its time to warm up – over half its length, in fact – but this ingredient proves as important as the heavier, more devilish side to the group, making the louder sections even louder and more turbulent by comparison.
Personal highlight and expansive closer Drop Anchor clocks in at 14 minutes and encapsulates everything The Dead At Sea do well. Given longer to experiment, angular riffs have time to duck and dive in and out of the verses, capitulating in a theme riff that is the album’s best. The final five minutes or so are devoted entirely to the Corvus’ grand send off – an enormous doom riff jammed until it runs out of steam and sinks itself into a wall of feedback.
Aside from the excellent composition of the record, The Dead At Sea have also found a superb mix and dynamic master through which to present their sound. Everything punches, creaks and crackles in an extremely organic way, but at no time does anything feel unfinished, underwritten or underplayed. This is an experience which would have been killed by overproduction but in my opinion, it just sounds like three very good musicians jamming together, a fact which is bolstered by their spectacular live show (which you should definitely go and see when you can).
Overall, Chris (Guitar), Pete (Guitar) and Bruce (Drums) have created a fitting, deafening ode to the life of a ship, reimagining its parts and functions through their instrumentation and raising it up out of the oceans once more. It’s a truly thrilling listen – one of 2016’s best – and a string to the bow of instrumental, grassroots music. Whether you’re interested in the history or not, you need to check this out; it’s not as dull as The Iliad, and it’s over in about 100th of the time – so there’s no excuse. SS Corvus is the new Boaty McBoatface. Stick that up yer blowhole.