Cape Fear River, NC natives Sourvein shouldn’t need an introduction, having pioneered an American southern doom scene with enough history to demand its own collegiate textbook; if there’s one face to pair with the name, it’s vocalist/guitarist and creative helmsman Troy “T-Roy” Medlin – he has been at the fore from the band’s 1993 inception, commanding and crafting his unique take on blackened sludge and doom. His band’s been somewhat marred by lineup changes and inconsistent backing over its 20+ year history, but they’ve still managed to turnover herds of EP/splits and several full lengths including 2002’s Will To Mangle (Southern Lord) and 2011’s impressive Black Fangs (Candlelight Records) – a record which proved equally a cathartic release for personal tragedy and an explicit statement of the band’s obvious relevance.
2016’s Aquatic Occult (Metal Blade Records) is actually the album T-Roy wanted to make back in 2010 – an album that, despite its murk and brooding ferocity, is ultimately rooted in positivity. The laid back, mid-tempo grooves of Avian Dawn seem almost uplifting, ironically granting an emotional moment of clarity with a sound and feel akin to breathing through swamp tar – the vibe is vintage and the tones thick on this 14 track opus (productions credits go to Mike Dean of COC.). T-Roy culled some heavy hitting players to help realise Aquatic Occult’s inspired vision – Reed Mullin (drums, also of COC), Lou Gorra (bass), and Kevin Rochelle (lead/rhythm guitar, also of Sea of Tyrants) carry the bulk of the duties, with a slew of additional guests (cameos from Iron Monkey’s Dean Berry and Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe to name a few) who collectively believe in the power of triumph over adversity – a theme that predominates behind the album’s fantastical metaphors and storied tales of sea creatures, sunken ships, and castaways. The ocean is indeed a mysterious entity, alive in spirit and beyond good and evil.
The album has great continuity and consistency despite the number of hands involved – Stig Miller (Amebix) provides a cool intro/outro to set the arrival and departure moods for the record, and sets the groundwork for cuts like Ocypuss, Aquanaut and Urchins to mercilessly impale – Urchins thrives on variations of a single centerpiece riff, one strong lick made even stronger by a few calculated tweaks and the right lead to cap the track’s final seconds.
Hymn To Poseidon and In The Wind draw on the group’s more introspective side, capitalising on atmosphere and slower tempos – this is as close to balladry as you’ll probably get with Sourvein; mind you, the guitars are still plugged way in with the phaser in the red – Hymn To Poseidon kills the blues with some excellent finger work sure to please anyone with an unclogged ear and Capsized meters out a bit of frenetic punk energy, still retaining enough sludge for the slower movers to catch their breath; take your pick of the lot, there’s a sample to satisfy a broad range of tastes. Besides, if you already have your hands on this one, you knew what to expect and you already believe in this brand of pioneering soul. To the newcomers, it should be an inspiration.
Yes, at face value, the DIY spirit can be a gamble; but for the ones who cherish artistic integrity over money, accolades, and all the other bullshit congratulatory trinkets, it’s less a bet and more of an affirmation of purpose – T-Roy, and in turn, Sourvein exist on their own terms. Now that’s a real lesson in history.
Scribed by: Jeremy Moore