Album Review: Sourvein’s Aquatic Occult Distorts and Crescendos in Blue

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I decided to try an experiment with this record, one that was designed to attain a certain effect; listen to it on my iPhone earbuds (which I had to unbox, since I’d never used them before) and then my Bose Companion II speakers, designed in the late ’00s, a bit before the reignited interest in high fidelity home speaker systems. I normally have little patience for the kind of music Sourvein play — despite two of my favorite records being both water-themed (The Ocean’s Pelagial) and dripping in gross-riffed stoner-Sabbath worship (Sleep’s Holy Mountain) — so I wanted to really put this thing to the sonic test on polar opposite systems and see how I reacted.

And sonically, it’s definitely a mother. Recorded by the legendary Mike Dean (longtime bassist/vocalist for Corrosion of Conformity) and mastered by perhaps my favorite mastering engineer working today, Brad Boatright (Sleep, YOB, Baptists, Nails), Aquatic Occult is a celebration of slow, brooding, fuzzy heavy metal. The riff isn’t quite worshipped at the altar the way it is by doom genre forefathers Sleep, nor is it pushed to its limits as on the new Agoraphobic Nosebleed record Arc – it’s more of a jump off point, a color in and of itself that the band paints with across tones, vibes, and repetitive themes.

This close attention to sound design isn’t limited to the production end of the spectrum: the band’s core lineup (T-Roy on guitar/vocals, Lou Gorra on Bass, and Dig on drums) tags in a bunch of players off the bench, including members of Lamb of God, Iron Monkey, Weedeater, Corrosion of Conformity, and more. Yet the numerous guest spots never feel like the “Feat.” as on a rap album; they’re more like (seismic) ripples in the distortion ocean that Sourvein laid underneath, within the compositions themselves. The music is deep and darkly heavy, but it feels completely played, like a bunch of dudes getting together in a room with nothing more than some guitars, amps and a few riffs. And when everything comes together, on songs like “In the Wind,” “Mermaids,” and “Ocypuss,” these guys are playing the game at a high level.

However, in light of staggering albums like Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s new foray into the genre, I’m hesitant to go all the way for this one. It’s intricately designed and plotted, and nothing ever feels tossed off or under-thought, yet I find myself wishing Sourvein would find a way to pack more of their ideas into each song, as opposed to putting all their riff eggs in one basket. But I have to give major props to them for executing, as per Mark Twain’s advice, to “put all your eggs in one basket, but watch the basket.”

Aquatic Occult comes out on April 8th via Metal Blade Records and can be pre-ordered here. Listen to “Aquanaut” and “Avian Dawn.”

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