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The Atmosphere of Death: Lago’s “A Broken Barrier”

sea of duress

Death metal and atmosphere have a complicated relationship. There certainly are moments of brilliance when artists meld the two into creative symphony; likewise, there are disasters whereby atmosphere sucks death metal’s impact dry. Death metal runs the risk of overexerting its burly self, destroying any hope for atmosphere (and the delicacies it requires) in the process. It does have one synergy point with atmosphere, though, and that’s maximization. A process endemic to metal as a whole (just in varying forms), maximizing certain elements of music for effect also creates impact. Absorbing impact is how you “get lost in the music,” so to speak. We’ve all felt it before (hence the colloquialism), but maybe death metal isn’t where we turn when we’re looking for that type of experience.

That’s where Arizona-based quartet Lago come in: their sophomore full-length Sea of Duress reaches for peak atmosphere without compromising even slightly on the most savage brutality. Rising and falling, the album charts a course across undulating waves of saturated doom and blackened blasts, offering touchpoints on a few varieties of death metal but never really settling on one given style. A sample says enough: check out the album’s second track “A Broken Barrier” exclusively below.

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With just the right amount of claustrophobia, Lago invent their own brand of oppressing (but ultimately freeing) atmosphere. Production matters for sure — Sea of Duress sounds purposely (but quite successfully) bleak — but the key to atmosphere is so much more. Songwriting, for instance, matters a great deal: on “A Broken Barrier,” it’s tempo shifts, discordance, and transparent transitions which foster fertile ground for atmospherics. Meanwhile, significant layering — like on the song’s monstrously chugging outro, and with the vocals throughout — adds the all-important elements of dimension and headroom. The album is busy for sure, but never overbearingly so; nor does it overcomplicate itself. Technicality, here, is omnipresent but slightly occluded.

In counterbalance to all this atmosphere creation, Lago keeps passages brief (never entertaining an idea for too long) and change-ups frequent. Also, there are the moments of boulder-crushing heaviness which characterize the album’s climaxes — these even may break atmosphere for a moment, just for sheer impact. Sea of Duress feels without-two-fucks in this way, to its benefit (this is death metal, after all). But it’s also a sit-down album, something to distract your mind from whatever horrors haunt your present reality. The catch is that Lago impose their own set of horrors with Sea of Duress: guttural, visceral, unforgiving death.

Sea of Duress releases on June 8th via Unique Leader Records. Pre-order physical here and digital here. Follow Lago on Facebook here.

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