Sunday Sesh: Adrift at Sea


Although the mountains are the clime for which my flinty heart most yearns, every summer, for a handful of months, I find myself yearning for the sea. Like Odysseus, I am pulled by the ebb and flow of the siren song of the depths. To assuage these tidal urges, I listen to nautically-inclined metal while the summer sun beams down upon me. In this Sunday Sesh, we put our hearts and ears to the proverbial conch and discuss metal songs inspired by the ocean. If you listen closely, you may even hear seagulls.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the {AE}gean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
-Matthew Arnold

My love affair with Calypso and her pelagic domain began many years ago, when as a child I was humbled by the power and scope of the black sea as I stood upon its newly post-Soviet shores. Years later, while in college, I found myself returning year after year to the Gulf of Mexico; there I would find solace in the gentle rocking of the waves as I attempted to cast my fear and anxiety into the briny depths like a message in a bottle.

It was on one of these trips that I became enamored with post-rock band Pelican, specifically their seaweed encrusted masterwork City of Echos. On this record, Pelican mastered the delicate swell and release, the wax and wane of warm tone and churning notes that provides listeners with a cathartic abandonment of worry. City of Echos is an album within which you can lose yourself in the cascading crescendos and overpowering shine, a lighter, warmer soul for the experience.

However, the sea is a fickle mistress, one that may drown and expunge as readily as it births and blooms. One track that has stuck with me over the years is Amon Amarth‘s “Legend of a Banished Man.” This song, written in Amon Amarth’s more scabrous, experimental days before they settled into rote mimicry of every release, begins with a prominent bass roll that reverberates like the sampled effects of waves crashing upon the beach before leading into a raucous assault that tells a tale of terror borne upon the waves. Although it is only one of the many songs about death by longship the band has written, it remains perhaps their most noteworthy.

Yesterday morning, as I drove to my tutoring office and contemplated the warm sun and gentle breeze, I felt once again that stirring of my heart strings like Charybdis’ whirpool pulling me into the murky wash. This time, however, I deigned to answer the call of mare nostrum by seeking something new. After a short plumbing of the depths I discovered a relatively unknown, monstrous experimental black metal group called Kraken Duumvirate. The sample track below, “The Astroglyphs of the Ritual Deluge,” is taken from an EP of the same name and is perfect encapsulates the band’s inky approach to songcraft. The track begins with a sonar pulse of a sampled effect that soon locates a writhing mass of shifting tentacle riffs afloat in a near lightless mass of measured drum beats. The group’s vocalist speaks in aquatic tones like Dagon with a voice that swells and fumes. The track is deep and mysterious, like the ocean itself, taking you to strange, seemingly alien locales where no glimpse of the sun can be seen and where strange creatures lurk in volcanic fissures. It is as imposing and elusive and mystifying as the cephalopod monstrosity for which the band is named.

These few bands are but a small sample of the rich mutual history of the sea and heavy metal. Perhaps you prefer “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” or “Lord of the Storm.” Perhaps, like Ahab, there is some singular white whale for which your vengeance and mania burns. Cast your worries upon the shores in the comments below.

“Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

(Photo VIA)

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