There’s a lot to worry about in the modern era, what with major political upheavals, the rise of the far-right, a growing rich-poor divide and much more besides seemingly dragging us ever closer to a dystopian future. And behind all that noise, the very real threat of climate change isn’t going anywhere either. It’s likely to go down as the most pressing issue of our time, one that many of us feel powerless against until the powers that be finally start taking it seriously, and since that doesn’t seem to be on the cards anytime soon, it’s just as likely to be an issue that we never actually solve. Indeed, as we barrel towards the inevitably ugly conclusion of global warming, it’s becoming tougher by the day to ignore the dread and anxiety that comes with thinking about the future.
This is a mood that UK duo Bismuth managed to capture with The Slow Dying Of The Great Barrier Reef. One of the decade’s breakout acts, in 2018 the band released this gargantuan two-song album dominated by the half-hour long title-track, a slow-burning epic that begins with submerged tranquillity, echoing the beauty of the coral reefs now facing extinction, before the gentle harmonic vocals become harrowed cries and the warbling bass becomes an onslaught of hammering sludge riffs, clobbering the listener like the gigantic drill of a fracking facility. It’s no wonder so many people resonated with such a compelling and powerful release, perhaps the strongest album to emerge from the UK doom scene in the past ten years.
“The lyrical themes of the album were inspired by an article I had read by Sally Keith (read here), a coral reef expert at Lancaster Environment Centre, where I am also based,” reflects bassist and vocalist Tanya Byrne. “She stated simply that ‘Dead corals don’t spawn’ and described coral reef bleaching and an issue that is multifaceted. As with many environmental issues, there is no simple approach to combat problems and very often solutions need a commitment to change from many areas of society. Many people in populist environmental activism have forgotten that there are no simple solutions to be had; the Earth is a complex series of interconnected systems. To purport one solution to climate change over another is not only disingenuous but also dangerous. With environmental systems, there are many shades of grey. As with many areas of discourse, nuance seems to be lost, and this is very much needed to encourage real conversations around climate change and biodiversity loss.”
In the piece Tanya references, the author Sally Keith discusses coral reefs, the things they need to survive and if there is any hope for them. Hope may be a hard thing to come by these days, and as much as we all wish we could bury our heads and wait for this to blow over environmental issues are only worsening by the day, but sometimes confronting hard truths is exactly what we need to wake us up. With The Slow Dying Of The Great Barrier Reef, Bismuth did exactly this, and they did it through some of the most captivating and intoxicating metal we’ve ever heard.
Words: George Parr