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The Doom Aquatic with Drown’s “Subaqueous”

Drown - Subaqueous Cover

The deepest part of the ocean is in the Mariana Trench, located in the Pacific Ocean in Guam’s vicinity. It’s a gaping chasm known as Challenger Deep, after the British survey ship HMS Challenger which first measured the extent of the depression in the late 1800s. It’s nearly seven miles deep, all told, which is about how deep the nautical funeral doom project Drown wants to take listeners with its gripping new full-length Subaqueous.

Drown mastermind Markov Soroka (also the operator of Tchornobog and Aureole) refines his vision for “aquatic doom” on Subaqueous, wholly submerging the barnacled funeral doom of his previous work into the briny deep. The two 20-minute songs that comprise the album steadily develop the creative concept behind the project while also creating an inescapably aquatic atmosphere that proves this isn’t just funeral doom — it’s funeral doom heard from the claustrophobic interior of a diving bell.

The titles of the two songs “VI: Mother Cetacean” and “VII: Father Subaqueous” hint at contrasting themes and provoke curiosity — for me, that curiosity was actually mild panic as I wondered where the first five tracks had gone. Drown was previously known as Slow, which released Unsleep in 2014 (containing said tracks) and revitalized after a brief hiatus in 2015, with the name change to Drown occurring in 2018. Subaqueous is something of a comeback and follows as a sequel to the events of the prior full-length. Where Unsleep told of an unnamed protagonist drowning himself and becoming something else in the aftermath, we now descend into the fathomless depths and learn the consequences of the drowned’s actions.

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Starting with the gentle lapping of tides against the beach, “VI: Mother Cetacean” proceeds gradually into the sea where the dual nature of the album’s sound encompasses all — at once, an undercurrent of murky distortion grimly tows the song along while wistful clean melodies overlap the gloom like sunlight on a sunken wreck. The pace picks up at times, with double bass drumming underscoring the glacial riffs, but these passages are airy and emphatic — not brutalizing — and careful not to dispel the thematic disparity’s mesmerizing hold. That’s probably the biggest change from the previous record: while the slow doom of Unsleep did feel positively drenched at times, it surfaced violently on occasion.Subaqueous, doubling down on its theme, maintains a burbling, dreamlike fugue state and stays deep below sea level.

In accordance with the cetacean motif, the growled lyrics are articulated at the pace of a whale’s call, further entrenching the narrative of the story into the overall concept. The plot itself feels almost like a creation myth of a forgotten coastal tribe — Soroka’s phrasings are just broad enough to conjure imagery of a world-changing event, but the events that unfold are also tragically personal. That’s no small feat when the plot also happens to involve a deep sea trench.

While long songs can also be crafted effectively by cleverly stitching together shorter works, both tracks on Subaqueous are built from clearly recognizable motifs that resurface repeatedly even as the track develops itself lengthily. Picking a familiar trill out of a building crescendo generates a sort of nostalgia that ties the spacious compositions together. As a change of pace, there’s a stark difference between the mournful “VI: Mother Cetacean” and the second half’s “VII: Father Subaqueous”: the latter takes on a dour air, darkening sharply as if abruptly descending into the trench to which the song is dedicated.

Eventually, the acrimony fades, and a painful beauty takes hold — which, along with a sense of an unresolved mystery, is where Subaqueous leaves us. Music is a transportive force that carries listeners to strange places and times, and this album places us somewhere we couldn’t go unassisted: at the bottom of the lifegiving oceans that birthed our fragile civilizations. There, at unimaginable depths, we can revel in our darkened surroundings while still gazing at the distant light above.

Subaqueous releases tomorrow via Prophecy Productions.

Fitting the theme of the album, Soroka is selling a limited edition of the vinyl in which he’s enclosing one of 56 hand-painted artworks and donating a portion of the profits to the Orca Behavior Institute.

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