Doom fans among you will likely know about New York’s Grey Skies Fallen, a vintage doom/death act that has been steadily improving their My Dying Bride/Anathema-influenced paeans to pain since the late nineties. Grind fans among you will likely know about New York’s Buckshot Facelift, a slightly less vintage hardcore/grind band that has been vomiting up vitriolic violence since the mid naughties. The subset of you that like both may even know that these bands share several members, specifically drummer Sal Gregory, guitarist Rick Habeeb and bassist Tom Anderer. But I bet you didn’t know that Habeeb and Anderer have an experimental side-project called Brave the Waters, did you? Even if you did, I’m pretty sure you won’t have guessed what Brave the Waters sound like. Dreamy, wordless soundscapes engulfed in reverb with not a snare crack or cymbal splash in earshot are certainly not what I was expecting from a duo responsible for such delights as “Lambs Pee Blood” and “Skull Drum Urinal,” anyway. That said, Grey Skies Fallen have produced some beautiful, quiet and melodic pieces – “Unroot Transparent Being” and “Isolation Point” from The Many Sides of Truth for example – that suggest Habeeb and Anderer might just have the creativity and versatility to pull off this new style on Brave the Waters‘ debut, Chapter 1 – Dawn of Days.
Unfortunately, the pair seem to have kept their undeniable talents locked in their other bands’ rehearsal rooms. Chapter 1 – Dawn of Days was apparently largely improvised in a short space of time, and it really shows. But before I start laying into it, I’d better describe the sound they’re going for. The six songs are performed on a minimal set of instruments – bass, electric and acoustic guitars, with a shimmering, ethereal vibe conjured by outrageous quantities of reverb (the Strymon Big Sky reverb pedal I believe, for you gear nuts). This dreamlike atmosphere, combined with the meandering melodies and major harmonies, is reminiscent of positive post-rock – think Sigur Rós without the instrumental diversity or songwriting nous – as well as Agalloch and Alcest‘s quieter, uplifting moments. Occasionally everything comes together to create spells of calm beauty: “Voice of the Ancient Oak”’s pretty melody underpinned by an elegant, repeating acoustic guitar pattern, or the brief “Setting Up Camp”’s more adventurous harmonies, for example. The majority of the EP, though, is directionless and tedious rather than graceful and soothing.
The performance and production are as uninspiring as the music. Slack timing is an issue on several songs, presumably resulting from under-rehearsal and unsure improvisation. I’m all for a loose feel for improvised material, but here it sounds sloppy and makes the already slow songs drag. The general sound is extremely treble-heavy; presumably this was intended to contribute to the otherworldly atmosphere, but results in twangy guitars and zero warmth. The bass especially has been stripped of its low frequencies, and its sharp attack from being played with a pick makes it oddly jarring. All those high frequencies are amplified by the vast washes of reverb, then overly-compressed almost to the point of harshness. At DR7 this isn’t the most offensive record in terms of dynamic range, but given the material it’s a very low value and the treble really grates by the time the record is finished. Additionally, audible clipping plagues several tracks, which just seems ludicrous to me given the mellow material.
Chapter 1 – Dawn of Days is a poor effort from a duo with such a strong pedigree. While I’ve spent a good paragraph moaning about the production it’s the music that really counts, and the compositions here are weak, with aimless melodies and twee harmonies supported by rambling song structures. The huge reverb is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the record, which says all you need to know really. Unless you are a big fan of things that are pretty-but-dull, I’d steer clear of this one.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Release Date: Out Worldwide 05.12.2015