E.P. Review: Sunken Seas- Cataclysm

E.P. REVIEW:

 

Sunken Seas

Cataclysm

 

9.3/10.0

 

Cataclysm is available via:

http://muzai.bandcamp.com/album/cataclysm

TRACK LISTING:

Asylum9.2/10.0
Seesaw 9.2
Slide Away9.3
Cataclysm9.3

STANDOUT TRACK: Slide Away

RELEASED: 6th September, 2013
RECORDED BY: Nick Roughan at The Lab, Auckland
ENGINEERED BY: Nick Roughan and Olly Harmer
MIXED AND MASTERED BY: Nick Roughan
GENRES: Alternative Drone, Space Rock, Ambient Shoegazing.
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Sunken Seas‘ debut (Null Point) was an accusatory and politicised work- one that shared a voice with New Zealand’s disaffected young generation. Its follow-up sees bills progressed through parliament- whilst their sound becomes fuller and more emphatic- with progression realised: Cataclysm is a varied and tantalising vote-winner for the hungry masses.
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GEOGRAPHY and influence can be just as vital as pure talent…

when concocting your overall sound. If the mainstream teaches us anything- the artists whom rule the airwaves- is that quality and unpredictability arrives when you try something different: good old reliable force gets results- yet the best movements arrive when a sense of daring and innovation are sprinkled into the mix. With the release of Jack White’s Lazaretto and Kasabian’s 48:13, we are going to be hearing a lot of Blues Rock strut and muscular Rock posing: epic fist-lofting anthems will be seducing ears through the summer months. If you look elsewhere (around the mainstream), you find yourself asking: what else is on offer? I adore grit and pummel as much as any other music-lover- my mind often looks for a sense of escape and wonder. There are a few artists that offer this, yet new music is doing the job best: stunning and mesmerizing acts are ruling the underground- spiking hearts and causing impassioned whispers. When discovering the best that new music has on offer, I have found that locale and geography play a huge part, with regards to the final product- certain areas and regions seem to bring the best out of the native musicians. It seems that a lack of stress and hostility (it may be obvious saying this) are important factors (with regards to creating the finest sounds)- the hustle and bustle of some major cities can squelch creativity. In the U.K., there are some notable hotspots- Yorkshire, Scotland, Brighton- whereas international climbs have provided their fair share of glistening new-found heroes- L.A. and Adeliade are amongst them. It’s been three years since Wellington-based industrialized space-rock group Sunken Seas released their acclaimed debut album, Null Hour.

Ryan Harte– Vox + Bass
Luke Kavanagh– Guitar, Backing Vox
David Provan– Guitar
Jordan Puryer– Drums

Over the course of that time, events have conspired not only the shift the dynamic of their sound, but the dynamics of the band itself. Cataclysm, released September 7th, harkens on the temperament of the band; possibly even the general mood of a nation post-GCSB. With Null Hour rooted with political opinion (single “Paid Your Price” being more overt than others), Cataclysm is Sunken Seas’ ossified post-script. Justifiably so – leaders standing down, strongly opposed bills passed through, main sources of export viewed as tainted along with the image of a country. These almost seem to prophesize some form of upheaval, and a violent change to the surface of New Zealand’s social fabric. A cataclysm, if you will. Recording, mixed and mastered by the highly regarded Nick Roughan, the challenge met by the group was to expand on what was already an atmospheric series of songs the album presented.”

Our quartet are amongst the most promising new acts around. I have featured few New Zealand-based acts in the past, so it was a pleasure coming across Sunken Seas: a group that have gained a respectable and impressive amount of positive press at home. The Wellington boys provide Space Rock energy; widescreen ambience- as well as a hell of a lot of energy. Whereas a lot of their contemporaries go for raw and visceral smash- sounds that border on Grunge and Metal- our four-piece come across as a welcome sea change: an act that provide plenty of relatable tones, yet offer that little bit extra. Having been recorded for several years now, the boys are growing in confidence: new music is on the horizon, and big plans are afoot- they will be act that will be familiar to most before too long.

The splendours of New Zealand- as well as their cannon of influences- has been conducive with regards to spectacular music: their debut album, Null Hour. This L.P. contained political dissatisfaction and anger: songs looked at the sorry state of affairs and the disenchantment felt by the country’s youth. Plenty of bile and punch lingered in the album’s songs: it is an urgent and direct manifesto from a band with plenty to say. Since then, the quartet’s sounds and influences have shifted somewhat- events across Cataclysm are slightly less politicised (in terms of anger and rebellion); perhaps more developed and progressive. The band assess the E.P. in their own words:

Cataclysm is Sunken Seas’ ossified post-script. Justifiably so – leaders standing down, strongly opposed bills passed through, main sources of export viewed as tainted along with the image of a country. These almost seem to prophesize some form of upheaval, and a violent change to the surface of New Zealand’s social fabric. A cataclysm, if you will.”

For those uninitiated with the band, there is much to discover: their music does not impose limits and restrictions- it is for everyone’s benefit. When it comes to influences, Sunken Seas mention the following: Pumice, And Also the Trees, Stereolab, Bailter Space, Children’s Hour, Medicine, The Fall, Neu!, Seefeel, Black Sabbath, The Dead C, Sonic Youth, Hella and Spacemen 3. Flavours of Heavy Metal, Punk and Rock can be detected amongst (the illustrious) names: the quartet recognise their favourite artists, yet use their influence as a starting point. The Cataclysm E.P. is abound with Shoegazing wonder; scenic Rock and operatic splendour- as well as ample injections of modern-day themes and political edges. In spite of there being less overt finger-wagging on the E.P., the band are keen to dissect and investigate social issues: their words and voices represent 21st century youth struggling to make their voices heard. Anybody enamoured of the great politically-motivated artists of the ’60s and ’70s will appreciate Sunken Seas’ motifs.

One of the most immediate and prescient aspects of the E.P., is the sense of drama and atmosphere: opener Asylum wastes little time in getting down to business. Bouncing and punchy bass mixes with a dark-toned fuzz: there is a spacey and dislocated sound to the intro. Harte’s voice has a slight drawl and restlessness- a fatigue and somnambulistic quality come through. These words are not synonyms for ‘unemotional’ or ‘blase’: the projection is appropriate (given the song’s title), and is designed to effect and strike. Early scenes are sleepily delineated: Harte’s voice whispers and hangs in the air- sounding a little like OK Computer/Kid A-era Thom Yorke. You get the sense that we are in the asylum; in a place with no real escape (whether a secure facility or a life that is undesirable): our frontman has a weight and burden on his shoulder- one that ia augmented and emphasised by the pervasive and echoing strings. Gradually, the energy rate begins to build- scenes become more vivid and striking, as the decibel level increases. Harte’s voice elongates and holds words; a female figure is breathing on his shoulder- the tension and nerves in his voice rise unabated. Kavanagh, Provan and Puryer ensure that proceedings are both atmospheric (that is to say, emotive) as well as melodic. Harte’s voice is a hypnotic instrument that perfectly blends with the backing; delirious and wide-eyed, it captures your attention- and puts you in mind of some of the all-time greats. Some of Morrissey’s phrasing comes through within Asylum; Ian Curtis’s rich and dark chocolate tones add conviction and urgency- there are memories of Thom Yorke’s falsetto highs. Towards the final stages, guitar, bass and drums ramp up and strike: twanging and crunching strings spar with industrialised and heavy-duty percussive smashes. Like pills taking effect, your mind swirls and becomes intoxicated- as the composition sinks in. Our frontman looks at a brand new day; headed down the highway (with the song’s subject breathing on his shoulder), he is looking for escape. A spectral sway gives way to a percussive burst: introducing Seesaw in an instance. Like its predecessor, the track hosts a captivating and memorable vocal: Harte has anxiety and inner-turmoil at the precipice, yet has redemptive longing. Our frontman takes a walk “to elevate my mind“; imploring his subject(s) to “hold on tightly“. Themes of breakdown and build-up are explored: the sonic projections are evolving and machine-like- there is almost an audible storm at work. The guitars particularly stand out to me: straining and roaring, they infuse electricity and a huge amount of atmosphere. Harte looks at the economy: the effect that it is having is detrimental and straining. Souls are inner-resolve are being sucked and evaporated- although one suspects that the words are meant as a call-to-arms, as opposed to a woe-is-me statement. Anyone expecting an Oasis cover (on Slide Away), will be disappointed: this track has more teeth and intention. Harte looks at the importance of saying what you feel; broken dreams are looked at: wrapped around a delirious vocal display. Sounding like (I hope Harte will forgive me for mentioning him alongside others) Meat Is Murder-era Morrissey-cum-Lou Reed, there is that mix of romanticized croon and darker-edged menace. Amidst shattered dreams and ideals (and objects) out of reach, the band stir up a hailstorm of sonic luster: the bass and percussion keep the driving force constant; the guitars spring rubber-like. Twisted rubble and thunder clouds rumble underneath; Harte’s vocal elongates and stretches: the song causes you to become immersed in the mood- you findyourself, well… sliding away. The E.P.’s swansong (and title track) builds with epic intent. Guitar buzz and growl pairs with fast-paced cymbal work: Pixie-esque rumblings enter the fray as Cataclysm starts to evolve and mutate. There is definitely a Grunge/Indie sensibility within the track- embers of Doolite are evident- that breaks away from previous numbers: scale and a huge farewell is being unveiled. Furious stamp and near-biblical climb makes you stand to attention: it is one hell of an intro. After the guitar lurks and strikes; the percussion rifles and smashes (separated by an ellipsis); the bass supports and pushes forward- then our frontman arrives. His voice begins heavy-hearted: looking for answers, it gets buried beneath the weight of the song. Harte is swimming against the tide and is the grips of a panic: cracks are showing, but our frontman is in no mood to let it lie. His voice is at its most pressing and persistent here: it is a breathless performance that adds colour and huge evocation to the song. The entire band are near their peak here: the instrumentation and composition is deeply impressive. The percussion stands out to me here: frantic the one moment; controlled the next- it is a stunning display. Guitar refrains put me (once more) in mind of Radiohead and Pixies: there is a nice blend of late-’90s U.K. Rock and ’80s U.S. By the time the song reaches its conclusion, you can imagine that the band are exhausted and aching: such is the energy and force that is instilled within every note and moment. The track acts as a fitting finale to an inspired and stunning E.P.

Having only recently discovered Sunken Seas, I am still taking their music in: New Zealand’s bravest souls present music that demands thorough study- in order for the full effect of the songs to come through. The E.P. is awash with spellbinding sounds and struggle-against-the-tide themes- compounded and emphasised by the band’s incredible tightness and intuitiveness. Before I touch on the positives, one or two (small) detracting points must be raised. It would be good to have an accompanying lyric sheet to each track, as certain lyrics and lines are hard to understand- buried underneath the music. The production is focused and impressive, yet the vocal is too far down in the mix: you are left with tones and impressions more often that words and lines- there is a slight issue with decipherability and clarity. These are minor negatives to my mind, but perhaps- the inclusion of lyrics- would have given light and insight into the tracks. That said, the abiding take-away is positivity: there are very few set-backs and issues within the music itself. Each song betters the last: there is a progression and rise in quality as the E.P. develops- the final track makes you wonder just how good the next release will be. In spite of the fact the E.P. is a year old, its themes and subject matter- political discontent; personal development and progression; a need to move on and improve- are relevant and meaningful today. Sunken Seas distinguish themselves by their unique sound- this is the biggest plus. Since the ’30s and ’40s, bands have been trying to differentiate themselves from others- in order to gain durability and longevity. Today- with the sheer mass of players- the job at hand is harder than ever: Sunken Seas manage to set themselves apart. The compositions are consistently stirring and emphatic- they will stick in your thoughts long after you have completed investigation. Harte’s vocals employ embers of past masters such as Thom Yorke, Ian Curtis and Frank Black- certain tones and threads of each are laced into the music. Harte comes across as an impressively distinct and potent vocalist: his phrasing is splendid and evocative; his range is huge- every word he sings comes across as elemental and vital. Kavanagh and Provan mark themselves out as future guitar kings-in-waiting: each has their own style and role. The amount of power, prowess and flair the duo summon up is stunning: each track is elevated and memorable thanks to their talents. Puryer’s drum work runs a gauntlet of emotions and speeds: it can be scattershot and frantic when the mood calls for it; softer and sparser at times. Few modern-day percussionists stick in my mind, yet Puryer has the potential to be a vital future prospect: imbued with the power of Dave Grohl and John Bonham. Harte’s bass work propels and pushes each song forward: nothing is ever stagnant or dull, thanks to the taut and effusive bass lines. The overall sound is one that I have not often heard: the range of sounds and sights is incredible. A huge amount of consideration and hard work has gone into each song- meaning the band have spent a lot of time and effort making sure the E.P. is as impressive as possible. Factor out my quibbles about lyrics and vocal ranking, and what we have is the signs and positive directions from an ambitious band: four boys who will be making big waves soon enough. Their music suits every weather and emotion- their political edges and motifs do not try to convert you or preach- whilst their words have meaning and importance to us all: the quartet write music that is designed to inspire- as well as make you reflect. It will be fascinating to see what the next year holds in store for the four-piece: the momentum gained from Cataclysm should compel them to aim even higher.

The rest of this year is going to be a transitory one for the boys: new music will be forthcoming (I am sure), yet the four-piece will be evolving once more- building their confidence and updating and developing their sound and subject base. The Antipodean stunners are familiar with- and have naturally at home- in the U.K., so I can very well imagine them playing quite a few gigs over here: there are a lot of London residencies and venues that would eagerly host them. Their incisive, ever-relevant and compelling words fuse spectacularly with their sound: ranging from hugely emotive to calmer refrains, they walk an impressive amount of land. Cataclysm was released last year, yet it is still unfamiliar and new to many ears: there are stations and media sources here that would love to hear their music. It is incredibly hard making headway in the music industry (what with the amount of competition), so if you have a special edge- a distinct sound and style- then you are already one step ahead of the rest: this will mean that Sunken Seas will not shipwrecked any time soon. I guess they will be thinking (in time) of relocation: possibly basing themselves in a big city such as London- that way, they have a direct link to a large fan base and hungry audience. For now, they should be very proud of what they have achieved already: Cataclysm is a stirring and emphatically confident work. With each new release the boys become stronger and more authoritative: it means that future endeavours will be very exciting indeed. As well as being unique and (in sound terms) a rarity, Sunken Seas have a sense of kinship and pride in their music- it makes everything compelling and memorable. Let’s just hope that something mouth-watering and momentous is in the back of their minds (no pressure): if it is, then they could transcend to the echelons of the current-day big names. I know how hard and unforgiving music can be- new acts get swallowed up regardless of how great they are- so I will not get too ahead of myself. Based on the evidence within Cataclysm, there is enough to suggest the New Zealand quartet…

WILL truly make a mark.

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Follow Sunken Seas:

Official: http://www.sunkenseas.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/#!/sunkenseas
Twitter: https://twitter.com/sunkenseas
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCi1GO3-hICM1mjQYXWsOE1g
Bandcamp: http://sunkenseas.bandcamp.com/
ReverbNation.: http://www.reverbnation.com/sunkenseas
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/sunken-seas/id533715585
Instagram: http://instagram.com/sunkenseas#
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Sunken Seas’ videos can be accessed at:

http://www.sunkenseas.com/videos

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Tour dates available via:

https://www.facebook.com/sunkenseas?ref=br_tf#!/sunkenseas/app_308540029359

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Sunken Seas’ music is available at:

https://www.facebook.com/sunkenseas?ref=br_tf#!/sunkenseas/app_204974879526524

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