Thursday, 29 November 2012

Seamount - IV: Earthmother (album review)

Seamount is a Traditional Doom / self-described 'Dark Rock' band from Germany.  I discovered Seamount on the Soggy Bog of Doom podcast and when Soggy Bob mentioned that the great Phil Swanson, on-again-off-again vocalist of Hour of 13 (among others), was singing with this band.  The iPod was shut down and a leap of faith was taken at this album.

First off, the band plays a highly distinctive style wherein the guitar sounds very 1980s without ever really sounding directly like anything in particular.  A smattering of various metal bands, perhaps a little Scorpions, a sprinkling of Faith No More and the distinct impression of  having taken some cues from the era's horror film composers.

The album opens with the 'Fear is the mindkiller' mantra from Dune then kicks into the song "Surrender" a strong midtempo opening salvo that sets the table with the musical and lyrical themes to be laid out in further detail on the rest of the album.  Like most of what vocalist Phil Swanson does, he makes the song memorable with his catchy melodic hooks.  It's refreshing for an Hour of 13 fanatic to hear Swanson using different vocal melodies as he usually sings the Hour of 13 songs the same way, with the same delivery and largely, the same kind of melody.  With Seamount, there is variation in the vocal melodies, but he never loses that Ozzy-like timbre to his voice.  Follow-up track "The Fool" is also a strong number for Swanson, slightly more down tempo than the opener, it's honest and open lyrics draw the listener in to the world of 'Earthmother'.  Some tastefully understated keyboards create a terrific 80s horror film vibe.

"Echoes" gears things down another step or two and uses a highly emotive melody and occasionally quavering vocal performance to become the centerpiece of the album.  "Echoes" becomes the emotional epicenter that carries the story forward and into the driving next track "Just for Fantasy".  "Aphrodites Child" gives the band a different look, it's a shorter (the shortest of the original material), choppier number with a driving beat and guitar that just chunks and chunks.  "Isolation" features a bouncy riff and recalls more of the pre-grunge 'college rock' sound of the Minnesota trio or Seattle bands of the era.  The song would probably fit right in on a Sub Pop or SST records release of the pre-grunge era.

The album finishes strong as well.  The final two tracks "Everything Divine" and "Music" are two of the strongest on the album, the latter being a Witchfinder General cover, so you can't go wrong there.  The former is an uptempo blast of near Kyuss desert rock with a particularly exciting performance by drummer Jens Hofmann.

It's hard, if not contradictory, to make a positive or uplifting doom record and Seamount doesn't go for the big, slow, Sabbath-like devil's third riffs here, but instead threads their style and perhaps the genre itself into new, daresay brighter territory.  There are some dark clouds and some rough territory to navigate through along the way, but not much outside of some various Wino projects gives me that 'well, okay, life isn't all bad, all the time ... I guess' feeling within the genre, which isn't the point most of the time but that alone makes this a different kind of project and worth looking into.

Just one more note and I'll let the great Phil Swanson take it away with an explanation of the lyrical theme of the record in his own words (below).  A lot of bands will go for a 'retro' sound from various eras but there's something about this record that transcends the 'tribute to ...' or 'influenced by ...' feel of most retro type sounds and actually feels the 1980s.  That something is a combination of a lot of things but is largely due to the guitar sound and keyboard created atmospherics, little things not often heard since the 80s, but done well.  I don't think of the cliches or stereotypes of what the 80s were probably like but that I didn't actually get to see with my own eyes.  This record brings me back and makes the era come alive again with the everyday street sights and sounds.  The grassy fields that are now apartment complexes.  The old cars, the sagging and moldering store awnings, crumbling sidewalks and decaying fence posts that have long since been replaced ... by apartment complexes (yes, even the cars).  I can't say that this is what Tim Schmidt and Andy Kummer (guitars) were going for but I thank them for giving me this feeling nonetheless.  And now Phil Swanson:
This is the first concept record of sorts by Seamount. It was inspired by a friend and the change she made in me and how I look at life. Also by some revelations I had in a very deep and dark conversation with another friend when he helped me realize perhaps I have been hiding behind the negative because I had never witnessed the positive. 
Theres a simple tool to use when listening to this record. On the surface it plays like a spiritually themed storyline but if you replace the idea of faith and religion with and god with the one you love then you can read between the lines. It is dedicated to the greatest love something Ive always wondered about and admired. 
I have a better understanding of what it is now and how we ourselves own our love and make it as strong as we choose. Its how much we are willing to give and offer not how much we receive. That`s why it can be blind at times. We create love the same as we create God, its our faith in it that makes it what it is.
- Phil Swanson*
*lovingly clipped from the Church Within records website.

Highlights include: "Surrender" and "Everything Divine"

Rating: 4/5

1). Surrender (5:36)
2). The Fool (6:58)
3). Echoes (7:09)
4). Just For Fantasy (4:11)
5). Earthmother (5:39)
6). Aphrodites Child (4:01)
7). Isolation (6:40)
8). Do It Again (5:37)
9). Everything Devine (6:02)
10). Music (3:17)
Total Run Time: 55:07

From: Würzburg, Germany

Genre: Doom Metal, Heavy Metal

Reminds me of: Premonition 13, Shrinebuilder, Under the Sun, The 1980s, For some reason this makes me think of the Friday the 13th franchise

Release Date: November 9, 2012

Suggested listening activity for fellow non-stoners: Go outside and maybe lie in a field of grass somewhere and realize that life is really pretty good (but try to avoid strangers, they are the worst).

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