It has been a while since we last heard from Welsh death/doom band The Drowning, but they’ve been steadily honing their ideas and are currently one of the most exciting and absorbing bands in the genre you’re likely to hear this year. In the years that passed between 2011’s ‘Fall Jerusalem Fall’ and their newest album ‘Senescent Signs’ new vocalist Matt Small joined the band, and he’s a perfect fit for what the style the group is going for. Today we’re excited to premiere House Of The Tragic Poet, the sixth song from the album.
The Drowning has given listeners plenty of crushingly heavy sections alongside sweeping somber melodies, and while ‘Senescent Signs’ is one of those releases that is consistent from beginning to end I think House Of The Tragic Poet is one of the songs that represents the band at their best. Right from the start you’re swept away by waves of melancholy, with piano and guitar leading into that familiar mix of bottom heavy riffing and crashing drums. When it comes to this type of death/doom The Drowning’s writing is up there with some of the best, as they let the atmosphere build slowly and know just when is the right moment to let the heavier distorted riffs fade out and let the melodies take over.
Matt Small’s deep growls are a welcome addition to the band, and they’ve recorded and mixed the material so that he’s front and center and sounds as though he’s towering over top of these melancholic arrangements. It’s one of those growls that’s deep and raw, but the way that it’s performed makes it fairly easy to pick out the lyrics. What might catch you by surprise about a quarter of the way through House Of The Tragic Poet is the sudden appearance of female choral vocals that trade off with Small’s harsh growls for a perfect balance of calming melody and raw energy.
We hope you like this sample of ‘Senescent Signs’, as it finds The Drowning reaching even greater heights than before. The album will be out on June 3rd via Casket Music. We’ve also been able to ask the band questions about the writing behind the new album, which you can read below.
Transcending Obscurity: Five years have passed between ‘Fall Jerusalem Fall’ and ‘Senescent Signs’. You went through some member changes between these two albums, but what other factors led to you taking a bit more time to write and record this time around?
The Drowning: The most time consuming factor that lead to the album’s late release was over running studio time. The writing of the album came naturally soon after Matt joined. The problems came at the first phase of recording when a heat wave hit Wales (for the first time ever!) This caused the hard drives to overheat, and during the week when it was being repaired the Mac also died so we lost a year of recording.
TO: You mentioned in another interview that a lot of the songwriting is done before the entire band heads into the rehearsal room, with some writing from scratch happening during your practice sessions. Has this been a consistent approach for the entirety of The Drowning’s existence? How do you feel your writing style has changed/progressed as you’ve moved forward?
Mike: It’s easier to start writing at home because when I feel the song is presentable and working then it can be brought before the rest of the band
Matt: That’s works for me because I always like to listen to the music and see how it makes me feel and then take that and write lyrics to reflect and mirror how the music has affected me.
Steve: Yeah but that has not always been the case, with the previous vocalist James, he always had lots of lyrics written out prior to hearing the music, now working together more in the studio with Matt means that we can push ourselves and experiment more with our sound.
Mike: With regards to writing style it’s a natural progression as in any band. With the first album that was The Drowning in its infancy, to ten years on with ‘Senescent Signs’, every year, every album has been a progression you get better at what you do and yet I wouldn’t change anything that we have released previously as that was what was right at the time.
Steve: We now sound fuller and on this album we have a more rounded production, which has moved us away from the more raw under produced sound we had on previous recordings, leading to a more polished, atmospheric and overall bigger sound.
TO: Your music is able to perfectly balance soft, melancholic passages and crushingly heavy doom. Is it difficult to maintain these two elements without having one overpower the other? I often feel like a lot of death/doom bands sometimes miss the subtle elements and have too much of an emphasis on being as crushingly dense as possible the entire time.
Matt: We class ourselves as a dark metal band, sure we are quite doomy and quite deathy but first and foremost we are metal and whether it’s sweeping melodies or brutal riffs everything has to work as a whole.
Mike: The element of light and shade within the music is kind of a signature of the band. We’ve never sacrificed a song for making it fit a specific genre and as a result we have taken elements from black metal, death metal, heavy metal, doom metal, classical music, and ambient to create our sound. Mixing melancholic passages and crushingly heavy doom is something The Drowning has always done and it comes naturally.
TO: I really like the cover art for ‘Senescent Signs’, as it has this dreary yet unsettling feel that draws me in every time I look at it. Can you tell us more about it and how it ties into the themes that explored throughout the album?
The Drowning: The credit for the album artwork goes to Matt Vickerstaff who has been the first artist we’ve given free rein too. We gave him the theme behind the album, signs of decay, entropy and growing old; gave him the lyrics and some early recordings and he gave us this amazing piece of art. The steepled building represents a gateway between old age and youth, the figure of death has a child like quality with its cocked head beckoning you through the arch whilst all around the forest is in decay adding to the sense of hopelessness, Matt Vickerstaff has continued these themes with dark imagery throughout the album’s artwork.
TO: Who performed the female vocals on ‘Senescent Signs’? It caught me by surprise the first time through the record, but it really fits the style you guys are going for on this album.
The Drowning: Lucy Shields who sings for the BBC Welsh Choir (name drop!). We have worked with her in the past, and since the new line up we have had more opportunity to incorporate female vocals than on other albums due to the strong string sections. She always brought that element of innocence to certain tracks specifically The Lament of Faustus where Matt wrote a call and response section with Lucy in mind.
TO: A lot of bands move between record labels from one release to the next, but you’ve stuck with Casket Music for almost your entire career. Tell us about the experience of working with the label.
The Drowning: We have released 3 albums with them and are releasing another one.
TO: Your debut full length ‘When the Light Was Taken from Us’ celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. Have you thought of doing anything special such as a live performance of the entire album or re-release to celebrate this?
The Drowning: This was a strong release for us at the time as it marked becoming a new band on the scene. I can’t see us revisiting the album as an anniversary piece. I know a lot of bands these days revisit old albums but for us that was a moment in time that has not been forgotten. The band’s focus has always been about writing new material and moving forward. Having said that if there ever was to be a re-release or a performance of an entire album it more than likely would be ‘This Bleak Descent’.
TO: Years ago there was mention on social media of taking a non-metal song and giving it a doom rendition for a possible bonus track at some point. Did anything ever come out of this? What are some of your favorite non-metal artists that inspire you?
Mike: I spoke to Jason and it was always going to be Radiohead’s Street Spirit but this was right at the point when James left so nothing came of it. Non-metal artists… I like Kate Bush she’s the best, Pink Floyd from a young age inspired me. Currently I listen to a lot of ambient music such Of the Wand & the Moon, and Subaudition but in particular I’m massively into Black Light Ascension the melancholy in that style helps to inspire creative moods within me.
Matt: Yeah Kate’s awesome, I also like Bjork she gets a lot of credit for being nuckin futs but she’s really got a handle on emotional suffering like in her film Dancer in the Dark it’s incredibly powerful, I wouldn’t say she inspires me musically or even thematically just her approach I guess. I like a bit of ambient myself but I really like the Burzum albums he did in prison so I guess that’s still metal!
Mixing melancholic passages and crushingly heavy doom is something The Drowning has always done and it comes naturally.
TO: By the time you guys answer this you will have played two shows in Holland, one as part of Little Devil Doom Days and another with Faal. What other plans do you have for live performances later in 2016?
The Drowning: We have kept our calendar clear for the release, and we have been working closely with Imperative PR since signing with them earlier this year. In order to hit the ground running and reach a wider audience with ‘Senescent Signs’ there are UK and Europeans tours in early stages of planning, also look out for a video in the near future.
TO: Are there any other Welsh bands that our readers should check out?
The Drowning: Desecration are good friends of ours… to be honest we have played more in Europe in the last 12 months than in Cardiff, you have already mentioned them but we have to give a shout out to our brothers in Faal even though they are not Welsh.
TO: Is there anything else you’d like to say about ‘Senescent Signs’ or The Drowning?
Mike: ‘Senescent Signs’ has been the best album we have ever done and the hardest album due to the recording and production issues, having said that going back and re-recording the album is the best thing that could have happened…
Steve: Yeah we had more time to work on the overall sound of the album as well as the more intricate string sections, which characterize the album so strongly.
Mike: You could say that it was meant to be.