I showed this album cover to my high school students. Their first reaction was, “Is that the new Imagine Dragons album?” I’m currently entering F’s for all of them. But I also realize that first impressions are often everything for the little-known guys in the promo bin. They’ve got one chance to impress, whether it be their skill set, an interesting style of music, or album art. South African sludge-groove quintet The Drift promises a neat cover, a history of prestigious live performances, and acclaim from well-known musicians.1 Does Seer find its groove? Or is it stuck in a rut?
The Drift offers plenty of Mastodon proggy sludge a la Blood Mountain, from the frantic pace that settles into post-metal meanderings to husky barks and an ambitious concept.2 The palette is rounded out by groove metal shredfests and classic heavy metal homage. It’s an infectious blend of influences that defies pigeonholing, recalling the wacky experiments of The Atlas Moth or Agrimonia. Unfortunately, although oozing potential, Seer is let down by production and mixing missteps as well as impatient songwriting, relegating it to the “mixed” category when it’s clear that The Drift is capable of so much more.
After a forgettable intro, Seer kicks open the gates with its title track, rife with Mastodon influence. Before you can say “gee, another Leviathan worshiper?”, the track veers into its own territory with a distinctively Pantera-esque riff, finished by a solo that would feel right at home with Iron Maiden, complete with whammy bar and pinch harmonics. This sound is also echoed by tracks like “Can’t Forget to Breathe” and “Reclaim this World,” stomping listeners’ ears with steel-toed riffs, while the densest track “Decider” seems to drift into metalcore territory with gruff barks and heavy grunge riffs reminiscent of early Demon Hunter. It’s not all kickin’ and screamin’, as the dichotomy between the relentless and contemplative is well established in Seer. Tracks like “Adrift” and “I Dream of Deluge” channel The Ocean‘s earlier material with passages of post-metal sprawl and crunchy riffs, while instrumental reprieve “A Passage in Time” offers a truly transcendental sound that best represents Seer‘s cover. Album highlight “Funeral Man” enacts the perfect balance of post-metal omen and groove metal relentlessness, featuring organic lapses with doom-inspired dirges and chaotic polyrhythms. It also sports the best groove, shreds and solos of the album, feeling like Pantera covering Precambrian.
While there is certainly a lot to love about Seer, it’s tragically crippled by its behind-the-scenes elements. Centerpieces “Adrift” and “Day One” are the perfect storm of its production, mixing, and songwriting qualms. Both tracks attempt post-metal grandeur, but the guitar tone is too thin to carry its heft, while the blaring harsh vocals do not match the intended subtlety. Furthermore, a key component in post-metal’s best releases has been its organic expansion of soundscapes, and The Drift feels very impatient in these tracks’ structures. The contemplative passages feel rushed and the harsher components don’t mesh, feeling jarringly uptempo. Other downers are merely disappointments: the title track is not entirely memorable, “Decider” is somewhat confusing in its metalcore feel, “Reclaim this World” tries to be heavier than its guitar tone allows, and “I Dream of Deluge” doesn’t effectively establish the balance of relentless and calm, feeling ultimately rushed. Overall, although certainly competent, the harsh vocals are simply too loud in the mix, while the cleans are not momentous enough to carry the album. Ultimately, while “Funeral Man” is pristine in its execution, the other tracks are caught in identity crises between Mastodon sludge, Pantera groove, and post-metal aspirations.
Don’t keep yourself from listening to Seer because of the downsides: The Drift is hemorrhaging potential from every orifice. When (not if) these South Africans can effectively make an album accomplishing the balance of “Funeral Man,” it will be incredible. The band’s third LP sounds quite a bit like Mastodon but there’s sufficient variety in its unique combination of groove, sludge, and post-metal to avoid copycat accusations, although songwriting and production keep it from truly soaring. However, keep an eye out for The Drift; here’s hoping their future projects beyond the Deluge Trilogy will be the bulls-eye they aim for and the monument they are capable of.