Despite containing a wide variety of sub-genres each with their own flavors, themes, and playing styles, for many people Metal roughly translates to heavy music. While this is certainly a gross generalization, it is true that for a certain subset of metal bands the goal is unequivocally to make the heaviest, most brutally punishing music as they physically can. This is especially true in doom metal and sludge metal, where the often-frantic pace of the metal genre is slowed down to a menacing plod, trading in technicality for lower tunings and bludgeoning guitar riffs. Creating such oppressive sounds is no small feat. The best bands in these subgenres push the limits of heaviness daily, capable of creating an atmosphere so heavy that it is near suffocating. On their new EP I Carry My Awareness of Defeat Like a Banner of Victory, Springfield, Massachusetts band Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean do exactly that, exemplifying all of the best qualities of their native genre.
Titled after a line from Fernando Pessoa’s pseudo-autobiography The Book of Disquiet, I Carry My Awareness of Defeat Like a Banner of Victory carries, in a roundabout way, an almost positive message considering the extreme nihilism that birthed it. It wears disillusionment like a coat of arms, not knowing exactly for what reason, and knowing full well that time will bury it just the same as all other banners. But in a world that seems incoherent and meaningless, it is a banner nonetheless, a marker designating something in the endless desert of nothingness, the awareness of the void, the one true victory that the emptiness can offer. Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean mirror this bleak landscape through the EP, offering little comfort while exploring the open face of the abyss with their eyes wide and their confidence unflinching.
The instrumentals are equally as bleak and callous as the subject matter. Opening track I’ve Got a Gut Feeling plods along in a crushing down-tempo for nearly the first half of it’s 7 minute run time, before it explodes when you least expect it into a tom groove. It feels like the sonic equivalent of trying to run a marathon with cinder blocks tied to your legs; each riff seems to hit your body with physical force and drive it into the ground. The same can be said for the second track, With Every Wrist Outstretched, which grows slower and slower as it goes on, following the tortured screams of their vocalist as he leads the song into a dark spiral.
When they reach the third and last song, And Every Sword Unsheathed, Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean abandon the sheer, brute force approach and transition seamlessly into groovy sludge metal, providing a rare up-tempo shuffle on a riff reminiscent of sludge-metal kings High on Fire, though with a much colder production style. Here they pull out all the stops and show off a little, transitioning through groove changes, allowing the bass to lead the way in the verses, and even ending with a wah-heavy guitar solo. It’s a standout track from the relatively new band, and one that should garner them recognition as a solid up and comer.
I Carry My Awareness of Defeat Like a Banner of Victory as a whole should draw some attention to the Massachusetts newcomers. As far as doom and sludge metal goes, it is a very solid EP. Members of that niche corner of the metal community will find lots to like about it, though due to it’s incredibly niche nature it doesn’t have much outside appeal. This is the story of pretty much every band that plays the “how heavy can we possibly be” game, however: it makes for music that is situationally satisfying and enjoyable, but not music that many people can listen to the majority of the time. For what it is though, ICMAODLABOV is quite solid and certainly merits a listen from diehard fans of the genre.
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*On the Spotify version of the EP, the track titles and orders of the last two songs are flipped, the 5:05 track should be titled “And Every Sword Unsheathed” and should be track 3.