Thursday 10 December 2020

The Dead Sea - The Ceremony of Marrying a Mummy (2020)

Country: Jordan
Style: Melodic Doom/Death Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 15 Jul 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives

Seeking out rock and metal from unexpected countries has yielded many rewards for me, but one key one last year was a one man melodic doom/death metal project from Jordan that goes by the name of the Dead Sea. That man is a busy musician named Azmo Lozmodial and I adored his debut as the Dead Sea, Hypernatremia. I've been eagerly awaiting a second album, but somehow failed to notice that he released one in July called The Ceremony of Marrying a Mummy.

It's another concept album, this time exploring the bizarre case of Carl Tanzler, a radiology technician in Key West who was obsessed by one of his patients, Elena Milagro de Hoyos. Believing her to be the true love shown to him in childhood visions by an ancestor, he pursued her as well as treated her, but, as far as we know, she never reciprocated his love. After she died of tuberculosis in 1933, whilst under his care, he stole her body from its mausoleum and lived with it for seven years, keeping it in his bed. He was caught in 1940 dancing with it in front of an open window.

While the case against him was dropped because of a statute of limitations, he was generally seen as a hopeless and eccentric romantic, but the details are creepy indeed. The corpse rotted, so he preserved it by attaching its bones together with piano wire, replacing its decomposing skin with silk cloth he'd soaked in wax and plaster of paris and filling its chest cavity with rags to maintain its form. Of course, he also used perfume, disinfectant and preserving agents to limit decomposition and mask the smell.

It's a wild story, ripe material indeed for a concept album, albeit a bit more straightforward in nature than the more vague concept that spawned Hypernatremia.

And, like Hypernatremia, this album is an immersive experience that I let wash over me for a couple of listens before being able to focus in on everything it does. The melancholy just drips off the opening track from its quiet outset and it continues to drip when the crunch kicks in. Lozmodial sings cleanly, narrates and then sings harshly. There are a lot of dynamics in play on a Dead Sea album, and this one also features guest female vocals, though not yet. For now, it's Lozmodial and the stylistic alternation works really well to represent the romantic vs. creepy angle, as well as to dramatise it.

This album didn't grab me as strongly as the prior one, but it's good stuff, even if the lyrics are often clumsy. To be fair, the rhyming couplets on A Ring for Decomposed Finger are cheesy but appropriate, given the context. "Your fingers look darker now / but to keep them safe I forever vow" is awkward in the extreme but it's the exactly sort of thing a German scientist in the Victorian era might write to an unrequited love he believed was sent to him by destiny.

A few other songs follow in the same vein, leaving us half melting hearts at how lost in love Tanzler is and half rolling eyes at how awful his poetry is on the subject. "Like a rose, you withered and passed away / Despite all the wishes, the dreams and the prays" is worthy of William McGonagall. There are a few ponderings on sanity here, but an abundance of musing on what might have been and how death can't stop that. While some of this is a theatrical take on concept, mostly it's just a consistent theme.

And much of the success here, beyond the general atmospheric texture, ties to the story. The more we learn about Tanzler, the more it all seems to work. For instance, Tanzler was an organist so the use of an organ on the opener, Dancing with Armless Carcass, which recounts the point at which Tanzler was caught, is especially creepy/romantic. I don't think it follows reality particularly strictly, as Tanzler is not known to have actually attempted to marry his beloved corpse, but it does fit his dreamy musing on a future unaffected by death.

Interestingly, it's all male vocals for the first half of the album, the first five tracks detailing Tanzler preparing the corpse for marriage and getting to the point of "With this ring I thee wed". And, that done, the second half kicks off with a female voice for the first time, the patient soprano of New York opera singer Julia Radosz echoing in space. The feel is very different here, with the presence of violin and serious amounts of echo on Orchestral Burial.

Most of my favourite tracks are on the second half too. I love the combination of organ, violin and a gothic vocal approach on My Withered Admirer and the aching slowness and crushing weight of it all. It's not quite funeral doom pace but it gets close, certainly as close as this album gets. I love the riffs on The Scent of Decayed Face and especially Saline Whispers too. This latter also features guest vocals from Greek singer Katherine Hofmann in duet with Lozmodial, albeit not many of them.

I liked this album a lot. I think it plays with its theme better than Hypernatremia, but doesn't end up as memorable musically. Still, it's recommended and I'll try to do a much better job of looking out for the next Dead Sea album.

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