Sophos – ‘Adrift Seas Unborn’

Artist:  Sophos

Title:  Adrift Seas Unborn

Label: Independant

Year: 2016

Review by Tërrørgåsm

This album is, for now, exclusively available (at name-your-price status) on the band’s bandcamp page, although in the interview recently conducted with Mr. Sophos for Underground Siege, he expressed interest in releasing physical copies in the near future; after taking many listens to these tracks online, I for one would be happy to make such a purchase. The proceedings are launched unassumingly enough with some nature samples (what sounds like seabirds) and seguing into a pleasant, minimalistic yet fairly lush piano melody which fades after just over a minute to begin the album proper with Our Weary Skins an early stand-out which kicks off on an ominous wave of dark synth and ambient piano dabbling before a searing swath of harsh bass and tortured screams tears through. The keyboards retain a heavy presence in the mix; this is decidedly atmospheric oriented black metal, and damned competent in its delivery, so those whose audial proclivities stray toward acts like Aquilus, Falls Of Rauros, Gris, Woods Of Desolation, et cetera — should enjoy the neoclassical patois draped over the requisite umbral seething here.

All the riffs seem to actually be programmed, rather than played on guitars, and yet it’s easy to look past this. Indeed, as the sounds swirl around your ears, it’s hardly noticeable. Next in queue comes Cast Adrift… which continues with the aquatic theme permeating the album, and has a lilting, melodic softness undisturbed by any guitars or screams; rather, only some clean-sung and whispered vocals appear over the piano and synth, with light, organic-sounding drumming sprinkled in, somewhat evocative of post-rock such as Explosions In The Sky or Red Sparowes. In fact, that sound is manifested throughout here, and definitely adds a welcome touch… chilling at times and bringing warmth in others, much like the ebbing tides of the sea.

One problem is the dead silence following each track’s conclusion on here, over a minute on some. I’m sure this will be rectified on the physical pressing of this album, whenever that occurs, but for now, it’s a bit bothersome. But continuing on! Dissolution begins somewhat austerely with a wretched croak of woebegone misery, shrouded in dreary, buzzing synths and plodding drums, and this lapses into a turgid miasma of brackish blackness; poisonous wails of hopelessness assault the listener from the depths of this chaotic dissonance while the keyboards shift into blunted nightmarish illuminations, abandoning the focus on melodicism. There are some sharp, jolting shifts in tempo here, occasionally going from brooding waves of ambiance into blasting black metal furiosity, which can be unnerving, and I’m not sure if this was intentional or just clumsy songwriting, but if the desired effect was to disorient, then it succeds. There is some cultish chanting in the second half which is really ear-catching, and then the crashing of the cyclopean electronic waves pummels you face-down into the murky gloom for the finale.

The use of repetition to induce a trance-like state in the listener is quite adroitly executed here, and never really becomes monotonous, as the disparate elements in the aura crafted by Sophos combine so harmoniously, even when eschewing harmony for sheer raging din. Dew of Coatlicue is perhaps my favourite cut here, with orchestral choirs evoking a sense of celestial longing for the divine, interwoven with some soft-spoken incantations and then screams, whispers, and the abrasive electronic riffs cutting through, and it all goes reeling into a desultory vortex of aggressive despondency; some absolutely bleak wailing vocals surface, similar to those chants from the previous track, and the voice of the synthesized guitars roiling up in Burzumic fury.

The Aztec motif hinted in the title is present, even lacking lyrics you get the feeling of being present at a pagan rite deep in ancient southern temples, with eerie vocal ululations creeping from torchspawned shadows. This theme apparently carries on into Icnocuicatl Yollotl which is carried forth on what’s presumably the splashing of ocean’s waves on a Mesoamerican beach, and trudges on in the same aqueous vein of shifting soft melodies and harsh dissonance and bitter screams as established throughout the earlier tracks. Not a bad piece by any means, but it just seems somewhat anticlimactic, especially after the brilliance of its immediate predecessor, although the keyboard-driven vocal section which comes in around the five-minute mark is particularly emotionally stirring. Then comes more cacophonous blasting alternating with serene melodies and eventually coalescing into the dark iridescent mass which pooled up around your mesmerised frame since the start of this madness. An ethereal section of soporific keyboards “Behind Closed Eyes” drifts out, taking you back to reality, though perhaps your reality might be held to question a bit further after experiencing all this.

I think fans of Velvet Cacoon particularly may enjoy this, as it’s very intoxicatingly enveloping, and indeed Sophos is based in the same Cascadian area, which accounts for the foggy, dark density of this music. Some moments here recall moments from (recent Oregon transplant) Leviathan’s first two albums, which is a huge accomplishment, and done without sounding at all derivative; just capturing that gloomy, cave-dwelling feel, massive hails for that. Anyone who holds an interest in sophisticated, atmospheric black metal stylings, though, is highly advised to check this out, as it’s definitely a unique and powerful offering amidst a slew of mediocre attempts at capturing the majesty of the rocky shores, dark woods and epic mountains so cherished in the heart of true black metal.