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The Slow Death : Ark

The Slow Death's latest release is an incredibly powerful, emotional, and intense album that needs your full attention.

After two emotional bull-dozer albums, and an epic split release with Majestic Downfall, The Slow Death now return with their most miserable and complex work thus far; Ark. I have closely followed the Australian recording project for the past five years now, having been captivated by the band’s melodic and morose music, as well as taken interest in the other bands the members have been involved in (namely Stone Wings, Murkrat, and Backyard Mortuary). As the line-up has doubled since the band’s inception, the quality and complexity of the band’s music has also improved with each of their releases. As it can be imagined, my expectations for this album were set incredibly high. Without a doubt, I can say that Ark have exceeded those expectations.

Ark is a powerful, atmospheric, and crushing journey through vast soundscapes of intricate guitars, eerie keyboards, and intense vocals. Throughout its entirety, the album submerges you in a black ocean of dreamy and emotional Funeral Doom Metal. As a concept album that seems to be centered on space, the sensation of drifting through infinite vacuum is constant and bound to ruin the good mood of even its most upbeat listener.

’The Chosen Ones’ comes in hard, kicking off with a droning riff that sounds like the end has already come. Before long, Brett Campbell (who is more well-known as the front man for Pallbearer) rips through with a stream of lead melodies, bleeding out over the dragging, melodic rhythm section. Mandy’s mournful alto voice leads in, soaring with desperation and incredible power. Her weeping mid-range tone is met by the hateful grunts and screams of Gregg Williamson, which groan cavernously and enunciate like rolls of thunder. Spaced out keyboards, clean guitars, clips of war films, and some deep clean male singing all work their way into the dirge, before second track ’Severance’ blasts its way in with shimmering reverbed guitars and haunting organs. The massive slab of Death/Doom is a lot darker, more aggressive, and almost sludgy when compared to the more emotional opener. It’s perhaps the ugliest and most cacophonous song the band has written thus far, almost reminding me of a less experimental sounding Unholy. An abysmally deep riff is met with some up-tempo Death Metal sections, alongside some hideous shrieks (by Samantha Smith of Ennoea); the harsh vocals, droning leads, intense drumming, and grimy rhythm guitars take emphasis over the sullen clean singing and hellish keys.

Third track ’Perpetuate’, however, is a tragic anthem of atmospheric, majestic sounding Doom. Opening with calm clean guitars and Mandy’s stoic singing, a massive tidal wave of lead guitars and pianos crash and immerse the listener with its many layers of heart-wrenching melodies, topped off with Gregg’s solemn bellow. With a long build-up, the addictive main theme of the song winds down to sprawling drudge that reeks of utter desolation. A quiet interlude entitled ’Ark’ follows, consisting of bleak funeral ambient that foreshadows the ominous melody of the next monster to come, ’Declamation’. This epic 18 minute composition is the climax of the album. Atmospheric keys and a downtrodden rhythm swim along with Mandy’s shamanic clean harmonies, before the mood and tempo rise to a heroic surge of Melodic Death Metal, narrated by some gnarly grunts and screams from Gregg and Simon Gruer (of Avrigus). Peaking with fast-paced drumming, ethereal keys, and wailing lead harmonies, the song eventually settles back down to its slower and more resigned natural state. One final glorious lead solo shines as the three vocalists trail away with the departing line:
’We will be free of the past, because this is the day when we choose.’

With a futile piano outro and the quiet sound of wind, we enter ’Adrift’. This ending track feels more like an epilogue than a typical album closer. It starts out like a ballad; a gentle piano melody opens with Mandy’s melodic croon before exploding into another harrowing riff, accompanied by apocalyptic organs and Gregg’s blood curdling growls. As pianos and guitar leads start to weave their way back into the mix, the mood grows almost more hopeful and uplifting, though that doesn’t mean much when it comes to this band. As the album comes to its close, the music trails off into a dreamy and distant soundscape of droning leads and subtle keys; a simplistic ending to an album that is anything but simple.

It’s not easy to think of Ark in terms of pros and cons, because I feel those who listen to it will either be able to appreciate it fully and feel completely immersed in it, or they will be turned off by the unusual combination of the atmospheric and dissonant aspects of the music. In terms of songwriting and melody, I find that it’s top-notch. ’Perpetuate’ and ’Declamation’ especially shine for their complex, nearly progressive song structures, packing in plenty of variety and interesting musical nuances. The vocals have always been one of the band’s more distinctive aspects, moreso for the clean singing than the harsh vocals. Though Mandy’s mournful cleans and Gregg’s guttural roars are excellent and as noteworthy as ever, I feel the guitars ultimately take dominance over the rest of the music in this instance. Brett and Stuart’s leads weave into each other, flow along like lava, and drift like clouds all at once. The addition of these solos from Brett really takes the band’s sound to the next level in terms of complexity and intricacy.

One slight negative aspect to the music that I picked up on is the addition of some of the harsh guest vocalists. Though their screams and grunts are decent and suit the more aggressive sections of the songs, the recording quality of their contributions sounds more shallow and muted than the full and resonant production of the rest of the music. It’s a very mild flaw that isn’t anywhere near significant enough to really detract from the rest of the ensemble, though the difference between the two production qualities is very easy to pick up on.

In conclusion, I find Ark to be an early contender for my favorite releases of 2015. To sum it all up one final time, it’s an incredibly powerful, emotional, and intense album that needs your full attention to be rightfully appreciated. With two incredible lead guitarists, an earthshaking rhythm section, a thick layer of ambient keys, decent dual vocals, and some fairly elaborate song structures, The Slow Death have once again blown me away. To those who worship the likes of Mournful Congregation, Ahab, and Shape of Despair, it is essential that you listen to Ark and immerse yourself in its hazy sea of Doom.

R.I.P. Gregg Williamson

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Reviewer's rating: 9.5/10


Tracklist :
1. The Chosen Ones
2. Severance
3. Perpetuate
4. Ark
5. Declamation
6. Adrift

Duration : Approx. 75 minutes

Visit the The Slow Death bandpage.

Reviewed on 2015-03-13 by Dante DuVall
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