Tuesday, 17 December 2019

The Dead Sea - Hypernatremia (2019)



Country: Jordan
Style: Melodic Doom/Death Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 15 Nov 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Metal Archives | YouTube

Sometimes albums just leap out to be reviewed. I've been a fan of doom/death since the very beginning and I'm always keen to see where new bands take it. This band is one man from Amman, Jordan called Azmo Lozmodial, who wrote the music and the lyrics, played all the instruments (except for some additional guitarwork from guest Alex Papadopoulos), sang in both harsh and clean voice and even mixed and mastered the album as well. I had to hear this.

And I'm very happy that I did! This is interesting stuff indeed, even if I'm not entirely sure where the title comes in. Hypernatremia is a notably high concentration of sodium in the blood, which leads to a whole slew of medical problems. Here, on what is apparently a concept album, it refers to the lady in the story tasting the salt in every word the protagonist utters, perhaps as a curse after he's murdered her, reflected in reality through his leaving her underwater and perhaps joining her in death.

There is a track called Mental Salinity, but it's an instrumental so doesn't add anything to the story. The Dead Sea, of course, is full of salt, so much so that we can float in it without having to inflate anything to help. It is a logical choice for a musician from Jordan calling himself The Dead Sea to use that famous local attraction as the venue for this poetic action. And it is gloriously poetic.

The music stands out from moment one, but the lyrics, which Lozmodial sings in English, are absolutely worth your attention. On the first track proper, Mummified Beauty, he introduces us to both the beginning and end of a weird relationship. It begins with melancholy promise: "You fell from the moon and landed inside a cave inside my chest." It ends with bleak darkness: "Embrace the shores now eternally." The title track covers the gap, showing an inner ugliness manifesting itself physically and setting up a violent response.

Or at least, that's what I got here. This is wildly impressionistic so that there are probably many readings. I couldn't be quite sure if this describes murder, murder/suicide or just an incredibly dark reading of a relationship gone bad. There's even a hint at a supernatural element. Is this lady human or a mermaid or siren? Maybe there are no people at all and this is about a sun and a sea, the former killing the latter with aching slowness. The Dead Sea has been dying for 65,000 years, getting saltier as it goes. Whatever it means, it's a beautiful and evocative take on a story that's isn't likely to be very beautiful at all.

The music works on its own merits, standing alone as a melancholy piece that feels gothic in its grandeur but fundamentally claustrophobic too, as if we might be slowly drowning along with whoever actually dies in this story. As such, it also works as a companion to the lyrics if we sit down to read them and let the imagery seep into our souls. Everything's filled with water and death, love and grief, regret and inevitability.

As everything plays so consistently, it's hard to call out individual tracks for special mention. They all feature slow but complex drum rhythms, jangly and melancholy guitars and melodies that flow so slowly that we often catch part of them and then build up a full impression. Mummified Beauty features a piano echo to a guitar melody that's lovely. Bells play an ominous but melodic part on Echoes from the Barren Seabed and others. My favourite moment comes in the early stages of the title track when everything stops a number of times only to build right back to full gear almost immediately.

The vocals shift between harsh, clean and spoken and all work. When they're harsh, they're dark and brooding but always intelligible; when clean, they carry a longing to them that's only enhanced by melody. This is strong use of the human voice as an instrument without ever losing understanding. That isn't as easy to achieve as you might expect.

Lozmodial seems to be a busy man. In addition to The Dead Sea, which may be a one-off project rather than something ongoing, he has a string of others in motion, often either one man efforts or collaborations with international musicians. The most traditional band he's been involved with thus far seems to be is Chalice of Doom, a melodic doom/death band to which he contributed lyrics, clean vocals and keyboards.

Just looking at his active efforts, he's half of Xathites and Now Everything Fades. The former is an Egyptian based depressive black metal duo, while the latter plays depressive black/doom; he provides all the music while Fernando Garcia handles the vocals. Tholomat is straight black metal, but the band is split between Norway, Hungary and Jordan. Cyclothymia appears to be another one man project. And that ignores Al Lat, DeathDiaries, Forgive Me and Lord Azmo. Al Lat sounds particularly interesting, as middle eastern folk meeting symphonic black metal. Clearly I need to explore.

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