‘Dreams of Deluge’ is the debut album by the very new South African metal ‘supergroup’, THE DRIFT.
It must be noted that the album also forms the first part of a trilogy of concept albums.
So…no pressure then…
The hype-flecked, dubious term ‘supergroup’ is one that seldom delivers in either excitement or standard of released material. The reality is often one of leaving fans deflated of fervour and empty of pocket. Nonetheless, the hype would have us believe this is allegedly one of the better examples of the phenomenon, comprised as it is of various members of various pedigreed South African metal bands.
As I am not as familiar with the current South African metal scene as I could or should be I won’t make any assertions as to the validity of this claim. The music, as always, should speak for itself…and it does…in spades.
Now that awkwardness and fumbling is out of the way, on to more important things.
Thematically the album is centred on water, as the name of the band so aptly portrays. Coupled with this are searching, despair and perhaps… just perhaps… a form of redemption. Lyrically the depiction is one of a vociferous rejection of formal strictures; be they religious, moral or societal.
Whilst this is familiar and well trod ground in metal, what holds the attention in this instance is the originality with which the subject matter is given a novel spin in that it is placed on a body of water, with all the imagery that encompasses. Water as a spiritual metaphor is, I am sure, not entirely unintentional. The cleansing qualities of water; physical, metaphorical and spiritual, simply cannot be ignored.
One feels that given the arc of the plot outlined lyrically, the antagonist is clearly the water, the ocean, the unforgiving depths. In this context the water also represents the void, the promise of oblivion, a chance of rest.
Yet, as you would expect, there is a natural drift in the views of the central protagonist as the album progresses. Initially he questions, then moves on to rejection, giving way to a direct challenge to the subject of his ire. He longs to face off against his self appointed foe, a rather thinly veiled version of the God of the Abrahamic religions; the God of Moses, Yahweh, I Am. The obvious parallel is that of Lear calling down the elements in a display of defiance, fatalism and descent into madness. Again the tie that binds the comparisons is appropriately enough, water.
If anyone is that way inclined this would make a damn fine graphic novel…
The album artwork eschews the standard metal fare of soulless CGI rendering or tasteless posed band photo and is instead rather striking in its etched simplicity. The message of indesinence is given a distinct African flavour and is conveyed without unnecessary bells and whistles, which you suspect is an approach preferred by the band. Artwork by the very talented Chris Valentine http://www.behance.net/chrisvalentine
The album opens with a surprisingly warm acoustic intro, very reminiscent of Midlake’s superb but dark ‘Acts of Man’ which in its own way is an appropriate marker for what is to come. As comparisons go this is, in my opinion, no bad thing, perhaps a direction to be explored further as the trilogy is fleshed out. This acoustic musing, along with its bleak underlay, sets in place a good bookend for the album.
‘Lost Son’ drops bluntly and without fanfare, full of meaty ‘Heartwork’ era Carcass riffage and replete with post-rock breakdown. Fleeting moments remind the listener of the cultured approach of latter day Agalloch. The protagonists first utterance…
The next offering enters traditional death metal territory, albeit underlaid with more post-rock leanings, and held together by continued worship at the gristly altar of Carcass.
‘Hour Unknown’ benefits from some limited but very effective vocal melodies, reminiscent of ‘Crack The Skye’ era Mastodon. I especially enjoy this approach of using of vocal melodies as a hook, and it very much helps the song raise its head above the water.
‘Ommerge’, although perhaps not the obvious choice for a promo video nonetheless enjoys exactly that, the execution and direction of which is absolutely first rate. The protagonist brings his innate fatalism to the fore…
The persistent riff to ‘Yahbulon’ (Yahweh) evokes Pantera’s ‘Shedding Skin’ but the comparison ends there as the dark, chugging missive acts as a vehicle from which the protagonist’s real world proxy spits apostasy as the drifting begins to cleave sanity and consciousness.
‘The Rain’ and ‘Reprisal’ bring the storm in both aural onslaught and as manifestation of the central lyrical theme: water, and lots of it. Our other worldly Noah beckons the approaching flood with the knowledge that as with the biblical flood, the world will be cleansed of ‘impurity’…in whatever form that takes.
As biblical parallels abound the question must be asked if the trilogy will end with the world cleansed by fire, the opposing element to water?
It is however with the track ‘Ocean Prayer’ and precursor ‘Serenity’ that the band comes into its own and finally delivers a sound which is both original and captivating. It could be argued that the African influence finally rises to the surface in this instance and the album is all the better for it both in terms of sound and as a respite from the incessant rain.
The ‘cleans’ are as always a welcome counterpoint to the death growls. The plaintive vocal melodies, strongly reminiscent of the refreshing Baroness, are also augmented with light studio treatment which helps with the other worldy impression of the God of Genesis hovering over the waters, amused, inspecting our self absorbed protagonist.
The album closes with the arabesque stylings of the intro to the final track ‘Glimpse of a Father’, as our newly uncovered anti-hero experiences an answer of sorts to his pleas and threats. Wind, pneuma, the very breath of God brushes the surface of the waters and delivers…if not redemption, at least a realisation that to blame the Creator for the sins of self and Man is a cowards choice.
His perverted inversion of the biblical Abrahamic plot where the one was sacrificed for the many leads to the understanding that for him at least the answer lies within: an acceptance of self, of place, of a Promethean fate which in time could be embraced as with the Sanskrit śūnya, an acceptance of void.
Personally I would have liked a nod to Scott Walker with a cover version as a hidden track but each to their own brand of humour…
The protean drumming is impressive; crisp and very competent throughout the album with some innovative timing changes and breakdowns.
Vocally, the use of harmonies is to be lauded, but the overriding sense of the remainder of the vocals is one of coasting without extending. The main vocalist whilst very able, could do with pushing his skills outside of his comfort zone. The album could do with more stretched, more guttural, more utterly despair-laden vocals in places. Used sparingly these touch points would perhaps have better conveyed the sense of desperation and despair at drifting across endless waters, searching, hoping…
Perhaps the most serious criticism of the album is the almost completely inaudible bass sound. The distinct suspicion is that perhaps Messrs Hetfield and Ulrich did a spot of local record producing in addition to their recent spate of concerts across South Africa…
Levity aside the lack of audible bass not only represents a complete waste of time and effort for what may be a very capable bassist but it also presents the more pressing issue of leaving the sound of the album a touch unbalanced and cold. The latter may well work metaphorically with drifting in unforgiving ocean waters but clearly this was not the intention of the band.
An audible, driving bassline would add some much needed warmth to some of the tracks which, in my humble opinion, seem to suffer a little from a lack of low end. Perhaps it’s my earphones but I rather suspect a lack of folding for a solid production may well be the culprit. As such this failing is not one that can be laid at the collective doors of the band members. Hopefully this technical hitch can be rectified on the sophomore release.
It is however with some relief that I can allay my fears of the album being a collection of lazy, pinch harmonics boredom, the likes of which so many modern death metal albums tend to deliver. The guitars are punchy and whilst the influence of Carcass and Pantera is quite obvious it is not overt enough to instil boredom. The band introduces enough originality in the music to signal the start of something potentially quite special. The second part of the trilogy – or given the overt religious musings should that be ‘trinity’? – is eagerly awaited.
Even the band symbol reflects the tenets of one of the Abrahamic faiths in that it depicts what could be construed as the trinity.
Without question The Drift is one of the more accomplished sounding metal bands South Africa has had to offer in recent years. This is no doubt a harsh indictment on a lot of quality bands I have missed out in the interim, but the fact remains that whilst living abroad, little has grabbed me about South African metal since the turn of the century.
Notable markers of the local scene tend to fall exclusively pre-millennium, with bands such as Sepsis, Retribution Denied, Debauchery, Malignant Saviour springing to mind, although VOD’s classic 1996 release ‘Bloedrivier’ is an obvious quality standout.
The hope is that in time, perhaps with their second release, this motley collection of Noah’s will find their own Ararat on which to rest and which they can make their own. Either that or they encounter R’lyeh which would not be good one suspects. These waters are as yet uncharted and the tide is rising. Until then…they drift…
*** If you would also like your band /album reviewed then feel free to contact me with a download link to your material. If I like it I will review it. If I don’t I won’t ***