Chained To The Bottom Of The Ocean’s Ruthless Sludge is the Music we Need in 2020

We’re also sharing a premiere of the band’s new live set today, check it out here.

When you really connect with a piece of music, it’s natural to want to know more about its creators. Some of the first things that come to mind when finding a piece of music that hits you are who are they, where are they from and what experiences led them to create these sounds with which I relate so fiercely? Interviews are typically one of the key ways to garner this information, but some bands simply work better as an anonymous collective or singular figure of intrigue. With some artists, this is because a lack of transparency instils a sense of enigma, enhancing the band’s mysterious allure, but with others, it’s even simpler – it just doesn’t matter. Not because anyone could be making such music, but because anyone can relate to it, and to not know the precise details of who’s behind it only makes this more possible.

The most depraved realms of sludge’s seedy underground often churn up music that hits on something uniquely in touch with the human experience. The thunderous percussion, corrosive riffs and guttural growls are perhaps the most potent sonic representation of humanity’s existential dread that heavy music has to offer. Thou’s 2007 track ‘Fucking Chained To The Bottom Of The Ocean’ is exempletive of this, Bryan Funck’s throat-shredding yells exclaiming, “This freezing chamber is inescapable. These ashen walls are insurmountable.”

Reinvigorating the abrasive spirit of this classic sludge track, Massachusetts’ Chained To The Bottom Of The Ocean formed in early 2017 and have largely kept their identities under wraps ever since. “All of us had met on Craigslist at different times over the previous five or so years,” the band tells us when we get in touch to find out more. “And the stars were just able to align with a common goal of volume and riffs.”

The band’s musical influences are largely what you’d expect – Rwake, Indian, Primitive Man, The Body, Graves At Sea, Neurosis et al – but they do have the unique ability to weave the more bare-faced sincerity of folk and indie music into the mix. Not only do they cite Bon Iver as an influence, but one of their most lauded songs is a scorching cover of Death Cab For Cutie’s ‘I Will Possess Your Heart’, which trades the original’s saccharine allure for intimidating shrieks and lumbering herculean riffs. Truthfully, it feels like a more accurate representation of the original song’s rather creepy lyrics.

Outside of musical touchpoints, the group take inspiration from the world around us and their experiences within it. “Love, love lost, sorrow, greed, despair,” they begin. “Watching the leaves change colours, watching the leaves grow back in the spring, the snow falling and seeing your breath on a cold morning, loss, crushing hopelessness, joy, fear, pain, happiness…”. It may be a cliche to say that a band take “influence from life”, but Chained To The Bottom Of The Ocean turn musings on the overwhelming beauty and crushing brutality of the world into such fierce, potent and poignant music that any of us could find some solace in their works.

These motifs explored by the band are largely universal, and that the band stop to explore these disparate yet intrinsically linked elements of life in such bruising detail is what makes their music so powerful, so capable of leaping out of your speakers and hitting you like a punch to the gut. Since their debut full-length Decay And Other Hopes Against Progress in 2017, the band have released two EPs, I Carry My Awareness of Defeat Like A Banner Of Victory in 2018 and Tell Me What You See Vanishing And I Will Tell You Who You Are in 2019. Recently, they have opted to compile all of their currently released music into a singular LP (with a mercifully shorter title), The Vestige.

Though a compilation was not planned from the start, it feels like the inevitable culmination of everything they’ve created thus far – the fullest realisation of their potential to date. “We’ve been surprised by our success every step of the way,” the band tell us. “When the Decay’ tapes sold out, we were like, ‘Huh, do people actually like us?’. Then we made more and more and more until we had enough money for a 12″, then the 12″ sold out and we were again dumbfounded. And each release since then has sold out faster and faster. We considered repressing them all individually but that idea didn’t really appeal to us too much. For all intents and purposes the first release is a demo, and then the two subsequent releases are EPs. It made more sense for us to package it all together and kind of say ‘this is us, this is the first three years’. In that way, it stands alone. Ultimately it is a compilation of different stages of writing, different levels of maturity, different songwriting skills. But the other side of the token is that it feels like it all fits really well together. To us, it is an important release that means just as much to us as everything else we’ve done.”

Despite spanning three separate releases, The Vestige works remarkably well as singular work. Each track is tied together by the band’s distinct sound and lyrical themes. “We write about the human experience, our unending curiosity with ourselves and the world, and the hope that someday we will grow enough to be joyful,” they explain. “This can come out in a variety of ways and so I think that’s what really ties the releases together. They are authentically us and all find themselves bound together by that thread.”

In writing about what it is to exist in this current period of history, it’s impossible not to take some inspiration from the state of the world, even if only in that your personal experience cannot be separated from your existence in modern society. To this writer’s ears, the band’s lyrics seem inspired by the grim state of the world, and often seem aimed at those who are most to blame – the rich and powerful. “The first record was much of that,” the band agree. “Some of it was metaphoric and more internal reflection, but yes. The two subsequent records have some of that but are even more personal. All of our work is as much a reflection of our thoughts and feelings as it is about ourselves and the world around us.”

Just as the band’s music often explores the world around us through metaphor, their artwork frequently features dark fantasy imagery that reflects these themes. Since their first EP, Chained To The Bottom Of The Ocean have worked with artist Blial Cabal, whose work has helped them forge a strong visual identity that is becoming an increasingly iconic accompaniment to their music. “Working with Blial Cabal has been nothing short of a dream,” say the band. “To wholeheartedly trust an artist to accompany your music with stunning and impactful visuals is not an easy thing to just stumble on. Having worked together a few times now we feel we have met a perfect match for our music with him.”

For The Vestige, Blial Cabal has produced the most impressive piece yet, a long, detailed illustration that spans the length of the vinyl’s double-gatefold sleeve. At one end, a roaring lion spews an overlapping onslaught of snakes. At the other, a skeleton emerges from these snakes to pierce the heart of an undead monarch. The band are even releasing two skate decks featuring each side of the design.

The Vestige feels very much like the closing of a chapter for Chained To The Bottom Of The Ocean, but it also hints at what’s to come. In encompassing everything the band have done so far, it feels somewhat akin to a debut album, setting out their stall and showing us why they’re one of the most exciting sludge bands going as 2020 nears its merciful end. Music as ruthless and relatable as this is arguably what’s needed more than any other right now.

High expectations have been set, but the band have shown no signs of stagnating. We can’t wait to see what comes next.

For more, check out this stunning new live video from the band.

Words: George Parr

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