Once upon a time, in nineteen twelve to be exact, in Alaska, there was a volcanic eruption, so gargantuan, that it spewed the volcano Novarupta skywards, and ever since, it has sat there dominating the Alaska landscape. Now, skip forward in time, to just over a hundred years later, and one Alex Stjernfeldt makes the brave decision to take the name for his new band/art project. I would like to believe he did it as a musical statement, and not just because he loves the actual volcano, and hopefully it’s more for the gargantuan sound that his band now create.
It was an inspired choice, and it would appear that it was perfectly decided upon, as Novarupta, the band, are as fantastical as the very volcano of the same name.
Marine Snow is a true testament to this, and on this second outing as Novarupta, Alex has truly constructed a mammoth album indeed. The second in the four elements construct that Alex plans to release; fire, water, air, and earth, so this would make Marine Snow the water element. The subject matter conveys this throughout the album, and is a fitting testament to the element.
Founded in Gothenburg, Sweden, Alex is the master of this project, and as with previous release, Disillusioned Fire, all instrument duties are overseen by Alex, while like on previous release, he has utilised the vocal talents of various well-known singers/growlers from within the whole heavy music scene. On Disillusioned Fire he guested members of Entombed, Dark Tranquility, and Moth Gatherer. On Marine Snow he again rounds up a plethora of incredible vocalists, including Josh Graham of A Storm of Light and Red Sparowes’, Lea Amling of Besvarjelsen and Martin Persner of Ghost and Magna Carta Cartel.
This album continues in the footsteps of older sibling, and if you like your blackened sludge then this is the one for you. It also has overtones of prog at times, and a new term for me, which I feel is perfect for this description, monochromatic psychedelia. Its overriding theme is one of depression, and turning something destructive into something positive. As hard as an album as this is at times to listen to, its beauty shines through, on what could have been a very flat release otherwise.
Even though there are only five tracks, those five tracks still come in at literally forty minutes, so you won’t be disappointed in what you get for your money, so to speak.
Opening track, Broken Blue Cascades, gets the ball rolling. It’s a moody start, that’s for sure. It’s chilled, and ambient, the opening vocal includes the lines ‘the violent waves swallow us, and I welcome the end’, so something light and cheery to get us going. As the stoner drudge kicks in, it’s instantly transformed, and the ambience is smashed. As the story unfolds, thoughts of being shipwrecked and drowning become apparent, and it takes a darker turn completely. Even when it’s quieter, it’s still equally menacing. I love this opening track, its pleasantly moody and atmospheric, and pulls me in completely.
It builds and builds in both pace and sinisterness, then erupts, much like a volcano, to instantly come crashing down to a cathartic finish…
Every Shade Of Water, track two, is equally as eerie. A rumbling bass driven beginning makes way for a heavier doomy vibe. It reminds me so much of the band Khoma, who I used to enjoy very much, so I do a little detective work, and I’m surprised by my findings. It turns out Khoma are also Swedes, and contain members of Cult of Luna, another band I like, and it sparks that comparison too. What a small world it is after all.
As I continue through the album, I hit track four, No Constellation. It seems to be the odd man out in comparison with the rest of the album. It’s darker, and has a real Paradise Lost, or My Dying Bride feel to it. The vocal is vastly different, it’s like the pits of hell spewed forth Satan himself to guest on this one. Its death metal overtones set it apart. Lines such as ‘Don’t be afraid to suffer’ really drive home that darkness. It builds and builds in both pace and sinisterness, then erupts, much like a volcano, to instantly come crashing down to a cathartic finish.
Closing track, 11°22.4N 142°35.5E, includes an absolutely insane minute long blast beat session, the likes of which I’ve never heard before. It drops in swiftly, and from out of nowhere, before disappearing as quickly as it came in, leaving a cathartic aftermath. It finishes with the sound of the waves rolling in, an inspired finish, to help relax the breathing again after a very intense forty minutes.
As concept albums go, this is somewhat more than just an album in its own right, I’m sure that once all four parts have been released, to play through back-to-back, will be the best was to experience them all fully.
As twenty twenty has gone on, I have found myself heading deeper and deeper into this very European stoner doom labyrinth, what started with Katatonia and Cult of Luna, has led me on to the likes of The Ocean, and now brought me to this point, and on each listen, I love this album more and more, which is the same way as I have with all of the other bands I’ve just listed.
This year has been a funny old year, I guess having more time to sit and listen has been fundamental in coming to this place where I am now, where I can appreciate all of these bands that I never had time for before. Maybe slowing down was the best medicine, and in a world so consumed with viruses right now, one of the positives I have taken from it all is it’s given me time to stop, and truly give myself to these works of art, for everything they are worth.
Scribed by: Lee Beamish