Thermohaline – Maelström Review

Thanks to that one boozy pirate-themed power metal band whose name rhymes with “Sail Dorm,” it’s difficult to take oceanic themed albums seriously. There are plenty of bands that have torn it up, Ahab showcasing mammoth waves with their breed of crushing funeral doom, Isis displaying the uncaring expanse with shoegaze-y post-metal, and Firtan and Déluge offering some respective symphonic black and post-black to reflect he majesty of the oceans. Scrolling through my black metal collection and each album’s respective themes goes something like this: winter, winter, occult, winter, occult, occult, evil, winter, etc. Oceanic-themed black metal is few and far between, and you’d be hard-pressed to find the good stuff. Will Thermohaline kickstart a new trend or will it end up drowning in its own ambition?

Themohaline is a difficult band to pinpoint. Described as “avant-garde black metal” or “progressive black metal,” this Belgian/Greek/Argentinian trio offers a breed of oceanic black metal that combines haunting aquatic melodies and the thick density of crashing waves. Offering a solid black palette with layers of riffs, wild instrumentation, symphonic and drone textures, and a strong sense of direction, debut full-length Maelström hones what made the trio’s self-titled EP so tantalizing. What can be described as a eerily blackened interpretation of Alestorm‘s, erm, eccentricity and The Ocean‘s Pelagic-era epics, Thermohaline presents a powerful outing of aquatic black metal, only hindered by its ridiculously crowded production and moments of lethargy.

What’s so satisfying about Maelström is its sense of direction. Each track takes on a life of its own, as cuts like “Adamastor” and “Sirens” offer raw industrial-tinged shredding riffs a la Dødheimsgard that pummel and spiral, nearly to the point of Portal density, while “Obra Dinn” and “Shipwrecked” offer strange murky melodies a la The Great Old Ones with Путь-esque folk instruments, packed to the brim with reverb. While each track is unique, each concludes with the feeling that we embarked on a journey, especially the back half. The mysterious “Shipwrecked,” dissonant death-influenced “Dark Corners of the Ocean,” and haunting “Paardenmarkt” are explorations into eerie darkness, utilizing the punishing density to its fullest potential. Each of Thermohaline‘s three members is responsible for multiple instruments, programming, and vocals, providing moments of individual spotlighting. While this has the potential to make Maelström inconsistent, there’s a strong thread that connects the entire album in spite of different tricks being utilized. True to the aquatic theme, while other acts embody aspects of ocean, Thermohaline feels like a complete package in its brand of avant-black: the beauty and the menace in equal measure.

The most glaring setback of Maelström is its production. While its assets and performances are all-around fantastic, Thermohaline would benefit from a more distinct separation between the various assets. Tracks like “Obra Dinn” and “Adamastor” are particularly at fault, as the first introduction to the album introduces listeners to a slew of instruments and performances that feel absolutely smushed together: there are so many things going on in the same channel that it feels ridiculously claustrophobic. Maelström is not given the proper room to breathe, and repeated listens are needed to unearth all its treasures. What hinders it further is when melodies abruptly drown out the bottom end in tracks like “Obra Dinn” and “Dark Corners of the Ocean,” while excessive repetition slightly mars conclusions in tracks like “Shipwrecked” and “Adamastor.” In spite of Thermohaline‘s stunning and unique performances and label re-release,1 Maelström nevertheless feels somewhat self-released because of its production.

The closest comparison to Thermohaline is probably …and Oceans, which rightly earned spots on 2020 year-end lists everywhere. The performances of Maelström feel like the work of veterans, even if the production suggests otherwise. It’s an album that embraces the oceanic devastation with blackened menace and industrial weight, while aquatic melodies, folk instrumental flourishes, and eerie atmosphere provide an equally fun and haunting listen. Furthermore, it feels like the band gets somewhere by the end – this international trio takes us on an eerie and thrilling exploration of dark waters. It’s a wonder to behold what Thermohaline accomplishes, as nearly bulletproof songwriting and fantastic use of its many assets take center stage, but production and mixing hinder its full impact. Maelström is ultimately a tantalizing debut from a band capable of bringing a hurricane.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Onism Productions
Websites: facebook.com/thermohaline.blackmetal | thermohaline.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: March 26th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. Original release was back in January.
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