A metal band from the Pacific Northwest region with hard leanings into both aggressive outpourings and experimental song structuring? Yes, they’re still turning them out up there, and with their first single (Nihilism) released back in July of 2019 (remember those days?), Sea Sleeper were gearing up to get things truly underway. But then along came the pandemic outbreak, and 2020 proved something of a wash. Stepping back up as the new year gets underway, the group (described as a quartet on their Facebook, though all the press photos only show three members) delivers an LP filled with songs that, although they aim for a diverse musical reach, come up a little short.
“Salt” is the first of their efforts, drifting in on a short wash of eerie tones before the entwined bass and guitar rise up into an aching presence. With the drummer alternating between staggered counter-point and blast-beats, and the singer employing a blackened scream, the gentler side of their music gets shoulder-checked to the side. Traces of influence from older groups like Atrocity and Napalm Death are audible, but the gloss and acoustic fullness of the production work give things a decidedly modern standing. There are times, as in the breakdowns of “Old Guard”, in which the band starts to approach using the dynamics of the mixing as something more than just instrument separation, letting the bass drop out to emphasize the vocals, for instance, but these inspired moments come a little too rarely. Or they can turn up, but seem a little unsure of what’s intended (the arrhythmic panning at the start of “Mountain Carver” being a good example).
That’s not to undersell the effort and creativity on display throughout the album, though. Knotty change-ups (check out the end-measure embellishments of “Coffin Salesman”) and twisty plotting are so plentiful that it’s almost easy to take them for granted. There’s a similar effect with the drummer’s ability to turn out twisting trails of blasts and rhythm-hopping, as these tend to drown out the contributions of the bass and guitar. It’s hard to blame a band for being enthusiastic on their first album, but there’s a feeling that they’re overextending themselves, to the point where a breakdown of just the bass and voice, or even just a touch of string-tapping, is more affecting than the percussive battering surrounding it. The intensity and density of the songs are undeniably impressive, so there’s little doubt that they’ll be able to find ways to channel the high power behind their playing into more of the stirring approach (like the climax of “Mountain Carver”, or the grinding shuffle of “George Van Tassel”) and less indulgence in raw bludgeoning of the listener.
While they may be showing roughness in a few spots, it’s almost entirely in areas which seem likely to work themselves out as the band continues working together. And aside from how their current work comes across in studio form, I’m sure this material would blow the audience away in live performance. Here’s to hoping that, as the album’s release catches on, there will be an opportunity for band and audience to come together for that experience.