Premiere: Full Fathom Five Lies Spelljammer’s Abyssal Trip
There stands the marijuanaut, an aqueous haze rivering out of her helmet.
Long-time fans of these Swedian Nazareths will have, many years ago, taken note of Spelljammer’s drift away from their desert rock beginnings to a more occult-draped stoner doom sound. Spelljammer’s first two albums, Inches from the Sun (2010) and Vol. 2 (2012), were homages to the ’90s lineup of Man’s Ruin Records, calling to mind the bluesy moods of Kyuss and Acid King. Yet, though the band was conceived by high school pals Niklas Olsson (guitars, vocals) and Robert Sörling (bass) while attending a Fu Manchu show in the late aughts, you’ll find less of Fu Manchu’s particular Californian dune-buggy boogie than you will the glacial crawl of Canada’s Sons of Otis on those earlier records. You will hear, though, on tracks such as “Rise of the Sonic Surfer” and “Space Reefer,” the familiar frequencies of those other Left Coast riff wizards Sleep, a motif that suffuses the band’s entire oeuvre even as their sound evolves.
2015’s Ancient of Days was an almost supersonic leap into the stoner contemporary, leaving behind the dusty ghosts of sidewinder patterns in the southwestern sands for the far fuzzier and more doleful mire of the slew of new doom bands taking their cues from Electric Wizard and earlier doom classics. Turning up the knobs to irresponsible levels and taking on more effect-soaked and woeful vocals, Spelljammer now sounded like Riding Easy (formerly EasyRider Records) labelmates Monolord, Salem’s Pot, Windhand, and, oh, would you look at that, Acid King again. The doom booms and the gloom blooms on Ancient of Days, an album that acts as a natural bridge between the band’s first albums and its latest.
Spelljammer’s Abyssal Trip, set for a February 26 on Riding Easy, sees the band trade the stars for the seafloor, as the band dives deep into the abyssopelagic zone, or what Rebecca Giggs calls “Hell’s gelid analogue on Earth,” to churn up their heaviest, darkest album to date. On first single “Lake,” Spelljammer sound like the deepsea progeny of Jus Osborn, Matt Pike, and Al Cisneros, taking time to explore the lack of atmosphere and oxygen at the bottom of the ocean amidst riffs as big as the continental shelf.
On the more recently released title track, Spelljammer adorn their demonic albs and conjure up the wicked occult-washed doom of Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats. The track gurgles on like a witch’s cauldron, vapours of intoxicating fumes wafting over the listener and entrancing them into a glaze-eyed stupor. Languid, acid-logged solos plume out from the ’70s brew only to be interrupted by familiar wahs and crunching rhythms. If you are a fan of modern takes on Sabbath and Pentagram, you will certainly fall under the spell of “Abyssal Trip.”
The rest of Abyssal Trip only expands on the themes and moods of “Lake” and its title track. Opener “Bellwether” glances against the resplendent majesty of Jerusalem, while “Among the Holy,” maybe my favourite track on the album, sounds the most similar to Uncle Acid or Windhand’s irrepressible, plaintive, and doomed-out caterwauling. The aptly named “Peregrine” offers a brief psychedelic foray into the mist before album closer “Silent Rift” plunges the listener back into Abyssal Trip’s frozen, sightless depths.
Abyssal Trip lands on the listener with the weight and speed of a whalefall. This disintegration, in which a whale that dies mid-ocean and is not washed ashore by the wind and tides, is a decomposing descent of the whale’s hulking mass from the ocean’s epipelagic surface to its deepest, most alien depths. Once the whale’s mushy, putrefying carcass finds its final resting place, its corpse explodes a “glitter splash of biology.” Hagfish, polychaete worms, troglodytic tubers, “crepilating things that live off sulphate,” and something called the Osedax (latin for “bone devourer”) not only eat through the whale but also make life spring anew as these whalefalls become occasions for feasting and fertilizing.
The ancient, ghastly dance of death and life hidden in the blackest recesses of the planet is precisely what Spelljammer hope to embody on Abyssal Trip. “The lyrical themes we address, like the ultimate doom of man, and the search and longing for new and better worlds, are still there,” Olsson says of Abyssal Trip. “The concept of something undiscovered out there in vast emptiness is pretty much always present.” Having explored the vast planes of the desert and the ever-expanding emptiness of space, Spelljammer take on the unknowable depths of the ocean, the future, and ourselves. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a lucinid clam or eelpout to enjoy it.