I took on this review with very limited knowledge about Maudlin. It was a barely educated gamble based entirely on the PR description (“post-metal”) and their classification as being psychedelic rock. Now, I do like a bit of psychedelic rock having essentially grown up on it (my parents were borderline hippies and mostly loved alternative rock from the 70s), but I have very little awareness of what post-metal is. Sure, I love a bit of Neurosis, but a quick check on Wikipedia suggests that both Tool and Prong are somehow in this classification. It’s at points like this where I get “educated” about these things that I start to dispute the whole idea of such microscopic sub-genre classification.
That’s enough of my gripes and time to get on to the album. Sassuma Arnaa is their third full length release and with a 5 year gap between each, you would believe one of two possibilities; that they have problems writing their material or that they take a really long time and deliberate carefully over each song, never rushing the process. I suspect it’s the latter of these two choices…
Recorded in the bands hometown of Ostend, Belgium, the seven songs on this concept album are all about the sea; you can feel and hear it seep through in so many ways in each of them. The cymbals seem to punctuate the music like crashing waves, and even on the occasional higher notes of the bass, it rumbles under the guitars like the swelling ocean. Guitar tones have that “wet” reverb sound that when used in certain chords add a breezy feel to them and when used in the thicker and more distorted sounds is reminiscent of a storm rolling in. This whole sound of the sea is even more emphasised by the vocal harmonies and melodies – the overall feel is fantastically atmospheric. Listening with volume or preferably earphones is definitely recommended.
“Endless Expanse” opens the album and the airy guitars initially remind me of The Jesus & Mary Chain but it also has points that make me think of A Perfect Circle’s heavier songs. It’s a fantastic start and the extended outro section leads beautifully in to the title track…
“Sassuma Arnaa”. Now there’s an odd coincidence here as this album has came out within a few weeks of another nautically themed album in The Legend of the Seagullmen, which has a song on it with a similar vocal melody. Regardless, this song shows off Maudlin’s slightly more riff-based song writing while still keeping those atmosphere dripping chords.
“Above the Vast Clouds” is exactly where it sounds like it was written, and it drifts along softly and calmly for a while before a more sinister feel creeps in and then it just erupts in to a remarkable and tense second half. This latter part of the song demonstrates the musicality of the drummer and the last couple of minutes have more than a touch of some of the best in desert rock – which is amusingly ironic to me.
“The Fog Returns” begins with a vocal melody that has much in common with mid-era Pink Floyd before it drops in to something that makes me think of Neurosis, albeit if they decided to sound slightly less angry. After a short drum break we hear the voice of Donald Pleasance from the 1979 John Carpenter classic, The Fog. I often find that sampled quotes from movies can be gimmicky, however this fits perfectly and the whole massive finale of this song from that point onwards is just stunning.
“Bête Noire” is the single that Maudlin chose to release. Being the shortest and most conventionally structured song on the album, I can understand why they picked this. Guitars come and go throughout, leaving a jagged sounding but dynamic rhythm section that pushes the song forward while vocal melodies drift over the top with unusual key changes. There’s a lot that happens in this which you wouldn’t normally notice in a first cursory listen.
“Erase” is the first time on the album that you actually hear the sea, not just a musical suggestion of it. There’s a long intro that continuously builds up until nearly the three-minute mark, but on a song that’s over ten minutes long, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. Once the song kicks in properly, there are some very sweet melodies from the vocals and guitars that cross over and around each other. The mid section that builds in to the climax of the song is punctuated by some smart bass-lines as it gets darker and darker sounding.
“The Stowaway” begins and the guitars have something in common with the alternative rock sound that the likes of Dinosaur Jr sit in the midst of. Though the guitar parts continue the rest of the band gradually change the whole feel of the song with rising dark overtones until there’s a pause, then a heavy and minor riff leads us into another dramatic finale that closes the album. If you’ve managed to get captured by the mood and taken on the album’s oceanic journey, you’ll possibly find yourself slightly short of breath as the final notes ring out.
I can’t compare Sassuma Arnaa to Maudlin’s previous work as I’ve not heard it as yet. However, I’ll be buying one or both of their earlier albums as soon as next payday comes… this is a focused and atmospheric cut of music, that has deservedly earned its way into my playlist and I expect this is an album that I’ll be coming back to for a very long time.
Sassuma Arnaa is out now on Consouling Sounds.