Mar de Grises - _Draining the Waterheart_
(Firebox Records, 2008)
by: Kostas Sarampalis (
It is very difficult not to be drawn into this Chilean quintet's take of esoteric and melancholic doom. Their debut album _The Tatterdemalion Express_ was an utterly unpredictable exploration of musical identity that still ranks in this listener's opinion as one of the best albums to ever grace this scene, doom or otherwise. It was not just the uniqueness of the music and the fact that there is not much around that is similar, but also the sheer quality and intensity of ideas explored during its course.In this respect, _Draining the Waterheart_ has a humongous pair of shoes to fill. The sophomore album is not a rehashing of the debut. The band has moved on and decided to further expand their sound. The first thing to notice is the replacement of vocalist and keyboardist Marcelo R with Juan Escobar. This is probably quite instrumental to the changes in the band's sound, to something calmer and even more introspective. It is difficult to guess if this was the main factor in what shapes _Draining the Waterheart_. As a direct comparison, Escobar is not as good a vocalist as Marcelo was. His vocals are more whispered and rarely does he drive the music. Having said that, he employs the same techniques of alternating between sorrowful crooning and drowned harsh growls as his predecessor; but his keys are certainly more adventurous, even if he relies more on textures rather than melodies.Even though this is an album to be heard from start to finish as one entity, the best examples of what Mar de Grises can do are displayed in the amazingly haunting "One Possessed" and the heavier "Summon Me". Both songs come close to capturing the same intensity that "Storm" managed to in their previous album (still the band's best song to date), by slowly gathering momentum and building it up with almost agonizing crescendos.With the exception of "Kilometros de Nada" which seems to go nowhere, all songs have something of their own to contribute. Where "Sleep Just One Dawn" acts as a bridge between this and the previous album, "Fantasia" throws electronics, static and samples in the equation and almost shreds any desire to draw comparisons. "Deep-seeded Hope Avant-garde" flirts with post rock, and the extended closer "Liturgia" pays respects to more traditional doom influences. Talking about influences, even though the great thing about Mar de Grises is indeed the uniqueness of their sound, one can catch glimpses of acts like Swans, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Isis and even compatriots Poema Arcanus.The production could have been a bit clearer, but the guitars are crisp, and with the chaotic nature of the music, it is to greater effect that some layers are slow and difficult to unfold and require attention from the listener. Noted should also be the limited edition digibook format that comes with an extra maxi disc containing an experimental, mostly ambient track, and the gorgeous artwork that complements the packaging.There is no question that if you liked _The Tatterdemalion Express_ you will also like _Draining the Waterheart_. This one is more complex, and it will take a lot longer to fully understand, but the quality of the music is undeniable. The jury is still out on wether it surpasses the debut. As mentioned, it has rather big shoes to fill. But with something as good as this, one should simply let himself be taken away by the music and not worry about comparisons.
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