One of the most interesting trends in modern heavy music is the acceptance of a style that, on the surface, sometimes has very little in common with metal. At one end of this rather vast spectrum are the more obviously metallic stylings of Chelsea Wolfe, and at the other is Greek-American artist Ioanna Gika, whose compositions are intense but electronically driven. Perhaps the likes of Wolfe, Gika, Anna von Hausswolff, Emma Ruth Rundle and Louise Lemón appear at metal festivals, release on metal labels and receive support from metal publications because listeners have begun to realise that heaviness doesn’t have to stem solely from roaring riffs and vicious vocals – it can also be in the sheer scope or deep-seated poignancy of a piece of music. In truth, the elegiac music Gika is responsible for might be a step too far for many riff patrons, but those who turn their attention elsewhere as soon as the electronics kick in will be missing out, for the Sargent House artist sets herself apart on her debut solo album with a style that’s vast, captivating and powerful.
Gika’s vocal performance is key throughout. Presented stark, her voice has a natural elegance that resonates through the album, shining down from some celestial plane; a beam of light soaring over the dense and often menacing music that lies beneath. The album is so vast that it’s easy to find yourself lost within its supernatural charm, but with vocals that are a commanding combination of alluring power, mournful disquiet and expressive serenity, Thalassa’s humanity is also front and present. Inspired in part by familial loss and romantic setbacks as well as the forced change they bring, the album’s personal themes can be heard throughout. They are there in the funereal atmospherics and looming beat of ‘No Matter What’ and the downhearted tones of ‘Weathervane’, but most notably they are what we are left with on the forlorn loneliness of closer ‘Drifting’.
The album is not merely a lament, though. It takes the grief-filled misfortunes of life as a wave – something you are plunged into and must fight lest it overpower you. The album’s title pays reference to the primeval spirit of the sea, and it’s clear that this inspiration burrows deep into the songwriting itself. Each sonic idea is its own musing that comes and goes like a wave, their impact felt even after they’ve faded away to be replaced by another. Like the ocean itself, the music is capable of both intense beauty and fierce strength, something that’s evident as early as opener ‘Roseate’, which begins tearful but also graceful before taking a plunge into a darker realm driven by an ominous beat and haunting atmospherics.
This imposing facet of the music is seemingly inspired by real-world experience, and it’s capable of reaching overwhelming levels of stifling claustrophobia. Yet Thalassa also holds an enchanting allure, one that radiates from Gika’s inherently sumptuous vocals and the occasional uplifting instrumental swells, injecting a smattering of hope into proceedings like the faint light of the surface above as you sink into the depths.
Thalassa is out April 5th on Sargent House. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr