Following the release of Drowned’s debut album, Idola Specus, it was time to do a retrospective of their career. Since their inception back in 1992, the band has released a plethora of demos and EPs. This band has never stayed in one place and has taken its time to experiment with their sound. Listening to Idola Specus today, I would think that you would be surprised to hear that in the past, Drowned used keyboards and clean vocals in their music. That alone shows that this band is not just another off the shelf death metal act, but something much more.
The first taste of Drowned in the underground death metal realm was back in 1993, with their demo release. Even though the production of the album is not that great and the sound is pretty rough, you will get an insight in the origins of this great band. The European death metal influence in the band’s riffology is quite obvious, especially is songs such as “(Beyond the) Gates of Kadath.”
Drowned is still able to offer chaotic moments, for instance in the beginning of “Underneath,” and going completely mental about one minute in to “In Deathless Sleep.” But they also retain that sickening groove that is such a trademark of their sound. In some instances, the vibe of their songs is more nauseating, for example in “(Beneath the) Gates of Kadath,” while at other times they have a more straightforward mid-tempo groove, as in “Undearneath.” And when you throw in the closing track, “Dawn of the Unholy,” and you get everything that makes Drowned such a great act. The intro of the demo is quite an interesting touch, with the acoustic guitar giving an eerie aura.
Conquering the Azure
Two years after their first demo, Drowned would return with their second overall release, Conquering the Azure, marking a quite interesting point for the band, with an endeavor towards experimentation. This brings very interesting results to the music of the band and reveals a few new aspects of their sound.
Drowned still retain their furious sound, which erupts in all its glory in “Fragment.” The ferocity of the band is present throughout the album, such as in “The Serpent Goddess,” and in a more fluid manner in “Burning Sparks of the Azure.” But what seems to have changed from their previous release is the inclusion of some more distinct melodic lines in the music. The start of “Fragment” shows a more emotional aspect to the band, as do the phrases of the closing track, “Wie Sterbende Sonnen.”
What is even more impressive is the presence of clean vocals in this album, which work great for the band’s sound. The vocals are able to provide a more mystical and almost epic undertone to the music, something apparent in “The Serpent Goddess” and in the closing track. When Drowned decide to throw in some effects on top of the vocals the result is phenomenal, especially in “Burning Sparks on a Black Horizon.”
Drowned go as far as to create more abstract structures for the song, something really difficult for a death metal act to pull, and they do it great in “Wie Sterbende Sonnen.”
Drowned continue down this wretched path with their first EP, Aerth. In this release the death metal band still includes clean vocals, which give an especially great performance in the opening song of the album, “Conquering the Azure.” The aggressive side of the band is still at large, making a huge impact at the beginning of the opening song. Apart from that, Drowned are also able to create songs which bring a more epic side of their sound to the surface. That is mainly the case with their eight minute long opus, “Antaeus (Elevated).”
When you also consider the lead work that is put into their music, Aerth is just a superb release. With the melodic lines near the end of “Antaeus (Elevated)” and about four minutes in “Conquering the Azure” standing out. The production has also improved in this release, still a touch raw but suitable for the band’s sound at that point.
Quite some time passed until Drowned got around to releasing Viscera Terrae. A rehearsal tape was unleashed back in 2002 featuring new material, but I think that it was Viscera Terrae that really put Drowned back on the map. And it marked the point when Drowned were really taking their music to a whole other level. As impressive as their previous demos and Aerth EP might have been, the band really made a stellar release with Viscera Terrae.
The inclusion of Mors Dalos Ra of Necros Christos for the vocals in the album might remind you a bit of the legendary German death/black band but that is when all comparisons seize. Drowned is its own beast. The old school vibe is really prevalent from the first notes of “Embrace the Beast” and you can see them steadily becoming the band that would unleash an album of the caliber of Idola Specus.
The sickening riffs, from the death metal to the core “Embrace the Beast,” the more aggressive and in your face “Key To Lunar Waters” and the Celtic Frost influenced “Abyssic Dead, They Sing for Me” are some of the highlights of this release. And do not even get me started on their lead parts, with the guitar two minutes in “Key to Lunar Waters” piercing through the music and crazy background that Drowned create in the title track. They even throw a solo in the ending of the opening song just to melt your face away.
The biggest change though is the inclusion of keyboards in this release. And do not start worrying about death metal bands using keyboards, because these guys really pulled it off here. About four minutes in “Key to Lunar Waters” soundscapes begin to emerge due to the ingenious addition of keys and they reach a more haunting sound about two minutes in “Abyssic Dead, They Sing for Me.”
Idola Specus was a great release, but going through the previous EPs and demos of the band you can derive that it was not just a random band putting out a good album. These guys have been on the scene for years and have not been static with their sound. Go through their demos and EPs and see for yourself.