Review: Drown – Subaqueous
“Man, no one has sounded the depths of your being;
O Sea, no person knows your most hidden riches,
So zealously do you keep your secrets!”
Subaqueous, the second album from Markov Soroka’s one-man funeral doom project Drown, finds our Ukrainian hero delving further into the deep in search of sorrowful, crushing oceanic pressure. Like the genre as a whole, it won’t hold everyone’s attention. But for those willing to plumb its depths, the rewards are great. The album is a step up in every way from his 2014 debut, Unsleep. In musicianship, songwriting, and production, Soroka has improved significantly in the last six years, and Subaqueous beautifully strides funeral doom’s line between moments of gliding, mournful melody and pounding despair. Lacking traditional verse-chorus structure, Soroka’s songs for Subaqueous ebb and flow, themes emerging from the murk at a snail’s pace. Where Unsleep‘s clean melodic guitars and downtuned riffs clashed uncomfortably with each other, on this outing Soroka has increased his mastery over these elements, combining them precisely to maximize the impact of both. Consisting solely of two lengthy songs (20+ minutes each), Subaqueous is an extended suite that doesn’t wander far from the funeral doom formula while still remaining a fresh, engaging listen.
Soroka describes Drown as “aquatic doom,” and from top to bottom the music fits the theme—from the watery gurgles that open “Mother Cetacean” to the closing refrains of “Father Subaqueous,” the listener is crushed beneath wave after wave of reverb-drenched harsh vocals, cavernous riffs, and melancholy clean leads. Whereas Unsleep featured drumming from an outside musician, on Subaqueous Soroka evidently handled the sticks himself; his loose-limbed playing throughout is fantastic, contributing enough to keep the tectonic riffs moving without fully taking center stage.
You may ask yourself: “Aquatic doom? Hasn’t someone done that before?” And you may tell yourself: “Yes, Ahab has built a career on almost that exact description.” Indeed, I would argue that their first, The Call of the Wretched Sea, is a genre high water mark.* Subaqueous doesn’t quite hit the same highs that Ahab did on that first album. Lest anyone accuse me of damning by scant praise, not everyone can release an album that, in my mind, defines an entire sound. With Drown, Soroka has come close. If you want a contemplative 40 minutes of professional funeral doom, you won’t find a better example.
If there is a complaint to be found here, it’s that Soroka ties himself too tightly to the formula of funeral doom. Some of the weirdness he incorporated into Tchornobog‘s 2017 debut would have done a lot to make Subaqueous stand out from its contemporaries. As it stands, the album is an excellent example of funeral doom done well—crushing and uplifting by turns, never afraid to dive deeper into the abyss in search of what lies beneath.
Four out ov Five Doomed, Aquatic Toilets
Subaqueous is out through Prophecy Productions on February 28, 2020. You can buy a copy on Bandcamp.