The nautical theme is an obvious part of A Storm Of Light’s And We Wept The Black Ocean Within, and having listened to it fairly regularly over the past two years, I’ve come to consider it to be a concept album about being lost at and finally to the sea. It’s only recently that the possibility of this concept serving as a metaphor for the subject of termination, and on a wider scale that of extinction, have occurred to me, and its consequent suitability as a winter album.
Why this is, I’m not sure, but I suppose that in the same way the longer you stare into a piece of deep dark water, the less you know about it, the more I listen to this album, the more its soundscapes, lyrics and artwork all evoke the intensity of absolute cessation. Gaze long into an abyss, and it will also gaze into you. Dying at sea, presumably, comes with an inescapable sense of impending termination, as the force that has surrounded and isolated unceasingly for maybe months at a time finally becomes the enactor of obliteration. It is through this premise that I propose As We Wept The Black Ocean Within to be a winter album; it evokes the scale, the indifference and the hostility of nature, the sense of the whole world shrinking into one precarious outpost, isolated and inescapable, and the connection between winter and death. I considered trying to write this review from the perspective of one of the characters in the album’s narrative (yep, we have a concept album here), to try to evoke this sense of totality, but found my own experiences actually bettering this by having been to sea myself.
The possibility of being consumed by the water, and disappearing from the world of men permanently without a final word, creates a very intense, all-consuming mood (to clarify, the chances of this actually happening to me were very slim, but it didn’t feel that way at the time. It was dramatic, alright?). Although the last thing I would have wanted to listen to during my time at sea was anything vaguely evocative of any sense of personal eschaton, now that I am safely on land, the intensity and immersive textures draw me in, partially through being so highly evocative of that time.
The sea is part of the album, with the wind moaning through the rigging, the ocean slapping and gurgling against the hull, foghorns sounding and sea-spray splattering across the deck. These sounds recur repeatedly throughout the songs, which contribute to their textual nature, largely devoid of riffs and lead parts, and mainly instrumental. Where there are vocals, they vary between a hoarse, weary baritone shout and screams of frustration, laboured in the best way, but at times also sonorous enough to sound almost like chanting. This is a slow band; not once do these guys get anywhere near fast, more often in free-time than 4/4. Chanting is used heavily, as are reverberating and deep piano chords, sudden crashes of distorted guitar, leaden, pleasingly plodding drums. The end is coming, but sure as hell you’re going to have to sit and wait for it as the waters rise; there are many moments of protracted silence or of just the sound of the sea. Whilst the influence of post-rock is obvious, the typical build-crash-build-crash structures are absent; A Storm Of Light really have their own style, and I can’t think of any other band that sounds like them. Doom also filters through, most so in the pacing, but the atypical instrumentation prevents it from being so readily classifiable. The sound is also more that of doom, thick and murky, rather than possessing the sparkle of post-rock.
Through this style, a story is told, the Moby Dick influence rearing early, sighted on Black Ocean with the introduction of the whaler. Track by track, or more soundscape by soundscape, the perspective changes between that of the whaler, the whale, and the vessel. The lyrical concern is very much nature versus man;the whaler tells of how he kills ‘for blood and money’, Thunderhead is named after how sperm whales used to destroy whaling vessels by executing nature’s biggest head butt, and Mass and Leaden Tide are about humanity’s ability to destroy through greed. The story ends with the final line, ‘rust this hull down’, and the water comes rolling over. Down we go, taken by the riff, each repetition another lead weight, another rivet inexorably popping, everything fading to the sound of a large object clattering and buckling as it rumbles into the cold depths. A full five minutes later it ends with a clang. Silence returns to the sea bed, to the sea, and to the world, until it too meets its end.