Part of the nitty-gritty of being a music journalist is tracing the lineage of sounds: being able to understand the complicated, web-like family tree of artists and where they pull their influences from to create more specific sounds. One needs to understand historical trends in music, the scenes that crop up in specific locales (the most obvious of which would be, say, things like the Norwegian black metal scene circa the early to mid ’90s or the long-running Baltimore hardcore scene) and how they tend to spread their influence far and wide, and, most importantly, how sounds tend to resurface years after they’ve ‘died’ in odd places. This mentally produced sonic diagram is complicated to an extreme, and ends up looking a lot more like constellations laid atop one another than any sort of clear A-to-B map.
Moonbearer emerges from a complex musical tradition that ties together a few genres, proudly planting a stake in the auditory firmament at a point aligned just as much with atmospheric post-metal and turn-of-the-millennium emo as it is with the sound that is, perhaps, their most notable influence: the mid-aughts wave of violent, passionate, wearied metallic post-hardcore. The Drowned God hold this banner high with aplomb, morphing the more direct attack that personified itself in bands like Poison the Well and Norma Jean into something more melancholic, slow-burning, and monolithic. What Moonbearer doesn’t have in easily memorized choruses and hard-hitting panic-chord-laden riffs, it makes up for in spades by being a presence that looms over the listener constantly, a tidal wave always on the brink of crashing.
Dissecting the third track, “Tomorrow Your Chest Cavity Will Be Alone,” the machinations of the album become evident. A lone, somber guitar appears at first, soon accompanied by the rest of the band, and ragged clean vocals throw themselves into the fray as well. Halfway through the track, we stop, pull back, and begin to expand outwards: first, a new guitar pattern appears, one more dissonant and foreboding than before, and then the bass and drums throw their weight behind the riff to propel it forward. Atop this, harsh vocals add that final burst of energy needed to bring the swell to its full height before letting the waves of sound explode and subside. What The Drowned God do well is primarily a product of their ability to build tension and emotion in a methodical, focused fashion, adding piece by piece to each track’s edifice until the whole structure collapses around the listener. It’s an intoxicating sound.
There’s certainly a lot that goes into the sound of Moonbearer, but instead of feeling disjointed or lacking a vision, the diverse pool of influences are mixed together so thoroughly and sharpened into such a fine point that there’s not a doubt at any point about The Drowned God’s personality or methodology. It takes a specific kind of genius to take an ocean and filter it into a cup, but that’s exactly what this Pennsylvanian quintet has done, and it’s absolutely for the better: Moonbearer is unequivocally triumphant in what it sets out to achieve. The gauntlet for 2017 has been thrown down by The Drowned God, and this is one hell of a standard to set for the year.
. . .
Moonbearer is out now. It’s available for purchase on The Drowned God’s bandcamp.