Drown – Subaqueous Review

Funeral doom was never a genre I willingly embraced or ever truly “got,” but as I grow older I seem to be finding more and more affinity for it. Perhaps that’s because I’m getting closer to picking out caskets for my own funeral, or maybe age has slowed me to the point where I can better appreciate other slow things, like turtles and the US legal system. Whatever the case may be, Subaqueous, the second album by Drown, is helping bring me around on this most niche of genres. The solo product of Markov Soroka (Tchornobog, Aureole), Drown is charting its own unique path, incorporating a great deal of melodic elements to make the heavy, plodding style much more palatable to the casual funeral goer. Yet Subaqueous is a purebred funeral doom album through and through, composed of 2 songs, each running over 20 minutes in length. It has an interesting aquatic theme and actually manages to bring it across in the music. But what really sets Subaqueous apart from genre peers is the inclusion of a wealth of goth and dark wave elements which provide a melodic buoyancy to the heaviness, allowing the listener to appreciate the crushing depths as well as the beauty hidden within the swirling currents.

Opening mega-monolith “VI: Mother Cetacean”1 begins life with soft, ambient effects and the sounds of the ocean deep, before gothy riffs that sound like they floated away from a The Cure album arrive. These are soon joined by heavier doom leads and the expected deep death roars, making for a style both heavy and sedate, with weepy harmonies trilling and goth tones shimmering as the vocals crush you down. This is the path the song wanders, carefully balancing the melody with the mammothness, the light with the dark. And boy, did they nail the mixture! A twenty-plus minute song should not be this easy to wade through, but I don’t find it a chore as there is so much beauty and melody to wrap my ears around. The pacing and flow is excellent, with a feeling that it’s drifting along purposefully. Riffs cycle and fade, only to return later in slightly different forms. Soroka never resorts to mindless droning and therefore my attention doesn’t run for the life boats. At times I hear Fields of the Nephilim reflected in the guitar-work, as well as much beloved melodeath acts Rapture and Slumber, and that’s good company to keep.

“VII: Father Subaqueous” is much the same in conception and execution, with a bit more Rapture influence present in the early riffs. This one has more of a determined plod and a greater hypnotic effect. Ambient keys are used effectively throughout along with water effects, from drops to the churning of the ocean depths, creating a waterlogged atmosphere which makes you feel submerged in the dark depths with only diffuse light rays reaching you. Eventually the vocals begin to take on a distorted effect as though they are being heard underwater, and it all makes for an intoxicating sensory experience if you really focus and let the musicical undertow drag you away. Near the denouement, string instruments appear, and though they’re used sparingly, they make a big impact, bringing the song and the album near its conclusion with grace.

Complaints? I have a few. While Soroka expertly manages to make very long-form compositions shockingly easy to navigate, both songs end with long periods of water effects and ambient noise. I could see using this to close out the album, but when it appears on both cuts, it feels more like unnecessary padding, and it adds roughly 6 minutes to the album. Another quibble is with the production. It was handled by Greg Chandler of Esoteric and for a lack of a better word, it’s a bit…murky. The various elements feel mushed together and sometimes it’s not easy to hear everything that’s going on clearly. Perhaps that was meant to compliment the underwater theme, but I’d much prefer something a bit more clear. Sound issues aside, Markov Soroka has really accomplished something here, eschewing traditional songwriting tenants and operating without verse or chorus. The songs just build and wander, but it works and they’re quite stunning in their development from moment to moment. His guitar-work is excellent, merging goth and dark wave styles with heavy doom riffing. There’s an ocean full of exquisitely morose melodies stretched across Subaqueous, providing bountiful earholds as the currents carry you along. His death rasps are quite effective too, though some variations in vocal delivery might have paid huge dividends.

Subaqueous is a unique and immersive listen (pun intended) and though I still don’t consider myself the demographic for this kind of music, I’m blown away by how easy this album is to digest and enjoy. It plays very well as a whole, and that’s the superior way to experience it. I didn’t know what to expect when I dove into this brackish pool, but I’ve emerged a fan. Get your Aqualungs on and come on in. The water’s fine (and heavy).

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Prophecy Productions
Websites: markovsoroka.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/drowndoom
Releases Worldwide: February 28th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. In case you are wondering, the numbering starts this way to show continuity with the five tracks on the debut album, Unsleep.
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