About 18 months ago Alcest finally toured Australia and one of the two Melbourne shows kicked off with a band I’d never heard of called Encircling Sea. Four bearded men came on stage in checked flannies and black tees and I expected to hear some folk music from country Victoria. I was wrong. For the next half an hour they swung as a pendulum between the quietest guitar and sample sounds, and an explosive wall of shoegaze and metal guitar, pedals and hardcore drumming and vocals. It was intense, moody, and pretty fucking awesome – the perfect aperitif to the French guys.
I quickly snapped up a copy of their CD and the next morning put it on in the car as I gingerly went off on a bacon quest. With head still throbbing I elected to cut short a particularly loud vocal section and skip to the next track only to find myself back at the beginning. After discounting aliens and a defective player as the cause of this turn of events I inspected the cover to discover that the CD had one song. Fuck. A closer look revealed that it went for 37 minutes. And two seconds. There was only one thing to do, and after returning home and cooking breakfast I sat down and had a proper listen to a lesson in dynamics and intensity.
Skip to December 2012 and news that a new album, “A Forgotten Land” was due on the summer solstice, just before Christmas. I can’t remember how I found out – it may have been Tim from The Wonderful Lives or the guys from Montresor. Whoever it was, thanks again! There was one track on bandcamp – well an edit that goes for ten minutes – and I was in love. December was again proven to be the month I discover the most beautiful songs. Well, now I’m lucky enough to have the full album to tell you about.
For a start, the songs are long. The short one is over ten minutes and the other three average around 19. This gives you ample time to be swallowed up by the mood and themes of each song. And swallow you up they do as you writhe around like a worm on a hook with all this tension.
Then there’s the dynamics that at one moment have you pacing the room with clenched fists and the next sitting eyes closed in front of the speakers with the hairs on your arms legs standing on end. I’m not sure how they do it but they’ve captured the passion, emotion and sheer intensity of their live show while at the same time using great production to bring a very clear and thickly layered sound.
This is post-metal/sludge/doom/black-metal at its finest and builds on the foundations set by bands like Isis and Cult of Luna. Like a growing number of bands playing progressive and experimental styles of metal, Encircling Sea turn things on their head with a considerable but temporary change of style around the half way point of the record, in this case introducing some great acoustic folk-metal (I was right, they do play folk after all). The duet is provided by lead singer Rob and his soon-to-be-wife Ramanee without any harsh vocals and this alters the flow of your emotions and feelings, things returning to normal for the closing song. By keeping things unexpected the record becomes more interesting and I listened to the album three times straight on three occasions this week without getting bored for a moment.
When I say “return to normal”, though, I don’t want you to think the three long tracks sound the same. Yes they all use in various measure thunderous walls of shoegaze guitar, hardcore vocals and drums, gentle arpeggios and tremolo, extreme dynamics and crescendo, but their identities are very unique.
Opener ‘Yearn’ starts with electronics and a buzz that at first sounds like a huge spaceship from your average sci-fi flick, but soon transforms into what reminds me of a street-sweeper truck brushing the dirt from a maze of suburban streets. After a minute of this things get mighty loud. On the other hand my favourite song, ‘Transcend’, immediately introduces then carries a slow, simple and hypnotic four-bar theme throughout the first half, contrasted against the guitar and vocal assault that builds so much more gradually, then waxes and wanes like the phases of the moon. Slowing down half way it rebuilds softly with additional vocals, again from Ramanee, but the calmness is ripped apart by a far more sustained and consuming violence. There are times during this part that the theme seems lost amongst the noise but it returns in the background as the song slowly dies and we come full circle. To me this tells the story of the Victorian bushfires of four years ago, but make of it what you will. It’s fucking brilliant song.
The record on the whole reminds me more of Alcest than any other band, partly because there are many similar elements that make up the sound. More than that though, I get the feeling that, like Neige, Encircling Sea don’t sit down to write a “metal album”, but to tell a story- convey a deep emotion, and this is the style that best enables them to do that. This record is not about metal, that’s simply what it’s made of.
OK, look I’ll shut up now. The record is released as a limited CD and on vinyl. It’s very short run and if you love underground metal then snap one up now before they’re gone. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Now excuse my while I turn off the lights and give it another spin. Just for me this time.