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There’s one thing you certainly can’t fault Azgorh for and that’s dedication to his work. With Oceans of Eternity now the twelfth full length release in seven years, not taking into account the endless sea of demos and splits as well, Drowning the Light have gradually progressed to become one of the most prolific and controversial black metal acts around at the minute. They’re a band who appear to divide audiences completely, you either love them or you hate them with very little mid way. Regardless of your opinion though, you can’t deny that they have done a commendable amount for the Australian black metal scene in recent years, intentional or not.
Gradually the quality of Drowning the Light’s material has improved from one album to the next, with the early releases patchy, right up to the latest which are formidable pieces of raw, unforgiving black metal that could easily stand up alongside many of their peers. Oceans of Eternity continues the trend and should really remove all doubts as to Azgorh’s motives as this is possibly his most accomplished work yet.
For those who aren’t familiar with Drowning the Light, a disease ridden bastard child of Mutiilation is the initial comparison that comes to mind, specifically the stifling, furnace like mayhem of Remains and you have something which comes pretty close to Oceans of Eternity. Upon delving a little further you can also pick out some Satanic Warmaster and even what I believe at times to be some slight Absurd influences, certainly in the riff structure anyway. The music on display here just oozes evil; Azgorh really has that barbaric underworldly sound down to a tee. Just take “As the Shadows Reach Our Enemies Throats”, it plays out like some mystic satanic war hymn with its pounding drums and surging riffs. There’s only one or two songs from the first half that I would say aren’t quite up to scratch, not poor by any means, just not as lasting as the rest. “The Poison Kiss” and “The Runes are Thrown and the Bones are Spread” are select highlights from what is essentially a constant rain of loosely bound malevolence, something which the production does a lot to enhance. Intentionally manipulating your sound to achieve a shitty production which is effective is a tough thing to do, though Azgorh has had more than enough experience at this.
It must be noted that Azgorh isn’t the most technically gifted on drums; he appears to only have two options at his disposal, a slow one-two beat and very-fucking-fast blasting with nothing in-between. But where his drum work may not be the most inspiring aspect of Drowning the Light, his vocals are absolutely savage, delivered with a manner and force that could tear the dead from their graves and bear more than a passing resemblance to Meyhna’ch. The guitar tone has been buried in so much distortion to the point where at times it resembles a swarm of angry bees in a biscuit tin. No bad thing though as it adds to the overall chaotic vibe, and Azgorh has always had a knack for writing some memorable riffs.
If you like your black metal unrefined and crude while still retaining some form of identity, Oceans of Eternity should be next on your list. It is the very essence of what underground black metal should sound like, although Drowning the Light themselves could hardly be described as being that underground these days, their sound is firmly rooted in it. Utterly unforgiving and stirring black metal from which there’s no respite, and dare I say it Azgorh’s best work yet. He may have his detractors, but when listening to this you can’t help but wonder why.
I can't help but think that the horned, bestial skull on the cover of this new Drowning the Light album is confirming what the title and oceanic backdrop openly hint: we will soon be sailing on a sea of oblivion, every last shred of living flesh stripped from us. And it's remarkable that the Australians have actually captured just this aesthetic here, on what is clearly one of their most melodic and chilling efforts to date. Intense, streaming tremolo lines are hurled in layers of blood-bright gloss at the listener while the vocals offer up libations of glorious, nihilistic grime that seem intentionally lo fi to the point that some of the deeper growls often squelch within the mix. Surely, Oceans of Eternity is abrasive, and I felt that its earlier half was somewhat monotonous, but the dour, emotional climax of its final third helps round this out into another success for these fiends.
Coming off Catacombs of Blood, which I believe to be their strongest album at least that I've actually heard, one might really expect that Drowning the Light had finally hit their stride, and now would come the responsibility to maintain it. I wouldn't place odds on this album over that in a fistfight, but what I admire is the band's ability to shift visual and lyrical aesthetics into different terrains and themes while never abandoning their harrowing, feral grasp. Tracks like the titular "Oceans of Eternity" and the pummeling "Cataclysmic Cycle of Renewal" give the aural impression of some vast open horizon of ghouls, the wind blowing in their tattered remnants of hair and garb while they crash towards some briny abyss. There's nothing unusual about how Azgorh composes his material; the riffs are drawn directly from the Scandinavian second wave legends like Immortal, Enslaved, and the like, yet Drowning the Light seems even more glaring and apologetic about the constant use of melody here.
I also quite love the clean guitar sequences here, like "Drifting Away in a Sea or Sorrow" or the very end of "Cataclysmic Cycle...", or the cheesy but amazing synthesized choir textures the band whips up for the latter half of "The Poison Kiss", which is coincidentally one of the best songs here, along with the hypnotic "Oppression & Tyranny" and the punishing finale "The Runes Are Thrown & The Bones are Spread (A Hymn to the Apocalypse)". While a few of the pieces on the earlier half of the record seem rather one-track in their execution, and I felt like I could only take so much of the band's windy, reverb-strewn faster melodies and tortured, Burzum-like vocals in a row, there is certainly strength on this album to satiate those who seek a consistent, atmospheric experience, and if you're into fellow Australians like Atra, Ill Omen, Erebus Enthroned and the like then you'll most certainly want to give this a spin.