Australia has been home to many spectacular music acts for decades, and there are no signs of that title being stripped any time soon. Bands such as Cog, Dead Letter Circus, and even the almighty Karnivool all call the Land Down Under home. The scene seems relatively condensed in the sense that the majority of Aussie bands that come out of the woodwork do so in unique fashion, each having their own signature spin on a certain sound and a way to set themselves apart. We Lost The Sea is another one of these bands, but their claim to fame is very different. The tragic suicide of frontman Chris Torpy left many fans wondering how the band would continue on. Two years later, the wounds are still fresh, which is evident after one listen to their newest record Departure Songs, which is sure to stand on the top of many year end lists and will go down as one of the crowning achievements of the Australian music scene.
The album’s title is an allusion to the overall theme of this record: death. As moribund and overdone as that might sound, it should not deter you from listening to this record. Each song has its own story behind the music, and these stories are responsible for the changes and the different progressions in each song. The album begins with “A Gallant Gentleman,” painting a picture revolving around the John Charles Dollman‘s painting of the same name, which portrays a man overcome by a ferocious blizzard that enveloped him and his expedition in the heart of the Antarctic. That man’s name was Lawrence Oates, and the opening track is a song based around his story. The song’s slow build up to an eventual climax really portrays the struggles Oates had with his decision, and the walls of beautiful guitars and bass display an accurate representation of martyrdom to the fullest potential.
The album’s second track, “Bogatyri,” delves into more emotional terrain, discussing the Chernobyl Three, who opened an underwater valve preventing a massive explosion that would have released deadly radiation into the air, poisoning most of mainland Europe and possibly even beyond. These three men went on an inevitable suicide mission, knowing death was imminent, but unfortunately necessary. Three deaths to spare thousands, even millions, was worth the sacrifice. These men are heralded as heroes, and Ukranian folklore tells stories of these men. The song starts of with a very dismal vibe, a gypsy vibe, telling the story. It’s also a reference to the Russian superheroes referred to as the Bogatyri. You can almost picture the discussion these men were involved in, their actual dive down to open the valve (which became more complicated after their only source of light went dark). Then, at the song’s climax, you can finally feel the emotions release, just as the pressure did when the valve was unlocked and opened. This song, more than anything, becomes the song for the common savior.
The third song might be the album’s best for the best use of marrying concept to music. “The Last Dive Of David Shaw” tells the story of the eponymous man who dove down one of the deepest sinkholes in the world to recover the body of fellow diver and friend Deon Dreyer, who had sadly been one of many victims of the cave. Determined, Shaw returned to the surface and began concocting a plan to return his body to the surface so that a proper burial could occur. On his dive, he put Dreyer in a body bag, but unfortunately became tangled in his various lifelines, and eventually perished. His body turned up four days later, along with Deon’s, on the surface as his team attempted to recover diving equipment. The opening of the song is sounds of the underwater journey he took, with the breathing and the sounds of the water around him making the listener feel as if he’s right beside Shaw, watching his every move, anticipating his fate. The buildup of melancholic drums and guitar towards the tail end of the song is enough to induce tears, and it is very hard not to while reading further about David Shaw and his final dive. The wonderfully done guitars create a pure sense of calm, and is the best kind of music to imagine yourself being underwater, alone. The moment the song stops is what many of Shaw’s partners endured on that day, and the ending of the song symbolizes them realizing something had gone horribly wrong.
The final two songs are arguably the most emotionally heavy in terms of concept. The two songs discuss the Challenger Disaster from 1986, where seven astronauts lost their lives in a catastrophic failure of the Solid Rocket Booster’s O-ring systems. You may recall that Vattnet Viskar explored similar themes in their own 2015 release, Settler. The use of horns as the shuttle launches in the song is a reference to “Fanfare For The Common Man,” which has long been associated with space travel, and is a reference in and of itself to the one civilian onboard, schoolteacher Christa McAullife. There’s also a quote from former president Reagan regarding space, as well as a slight reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey, which makes the album even deeper conceptually and musically. The first song ends after the shuttles explosion, and leads into the second part after millions look on at what once was a shuttle filled with life. The closing track is an homage to those who lost their lives on that flight, and the music reflects that. From beginning to end this song accurately outlines the launch day in 1986, from every guitar note to every slow, rhythmic drum beat. The musical precision on this song is absolutely flawless, and their focus on detail is impeccable.
However, this album inevitably ties back to their former singer, and how his suicide affected the band as a whole. The band seemed to go through hell and back, and this record is an accurate representation of personal struggles with death and is an example of how they collectively found something to dull the pain. This record is as cathartic as anything else, and is a stunning tribute to all of those fallen heroes from history. In the end, this album is nothing short of magnificent, and is a conceptual and musical giant. This album is the epitome of sorrow, the eulogy for the dead. It is an outline for how to mourn and overcome. More importantly, however, this album is free of flaws, and leaves us with a message: pain never goes away; it simply gets easier to cope with.
We Lost The Sea – Departure Songs gets…
-SS, with conceptual outlines by GS