It’s fair to say straight away that Sertraline know how to do melancholy, in fact it’s the most defining feature of their sound. With five of their six members having been part of US death-doom stalwarts Where She Wept, their new incarnation as a blackgaze outfit still has many traits of the gothic doom atmosphere that defined their previous sound.
Across three EPs Sertraline have delved deeper into the black metal domain, and have now collected these EPs together in the compilation album The Streetlight Was All We Needed. Understandably it doesn’t quite have the same flow a traditional full-length album might aim for, but this is still a magnificent collection of songs that show Sertraline‘s fantastic development into a new style.
The first four tracks of the album make up their 2017 EP Shade, and show a group clearly exploring the potential of their new sound. It consists of two full tracks alongside the atmospheric intro (BLOOM) and the spacey interlude (HAZE).
The first track proper, Azalea, begins with the kind of opening movement that could easily fit on a Paradise Lost track as it could on a Wolves In The Throne Room one. The deep acidic vocals definitely indicate their death-doom leanings, but the track also features layers of swirling guitars that entrench a certain mystical ambience to the whole piece. The title track Shade begins in typical blackgaze fashion with incessant drumming and melancholic chords crashing against wailing guitar leads. The band offer plenty of dynamics with the track breaking into softer moments of gloomy introspection, before hurtling back into the depressive walls of sound.
The next three tracks come from the 2019 EP From Both Our Hands, and it’s quickly evident how much the band developed in the intermediate years. Hounds Of Avarice spends most of its opening leg in a wonderfully intricate mix of melancholic arpeggios and fervent chords. For its second half it goes into full-on black metal mode with minimalistic tremolo and blast beat riffs that manage to combine raw ferocity and doomy power all in one.
The Knowledge Of Trees opens with some Liturgy style tremolo riffing and a thumping drum solo before breaking into more blast beats and tremolo riffs. It engulfs you almost completely, occasionally cutting into the mire with Deafheaven style breaks that serve to increase the energy each time, pulling and pushing the tempo and the tension brilliantly.
a magnificent collection of songs that show Sertraline’s fantastic development…
Entwined sees a return to more doomy territory at first, the three guitars and bass working perfectly together to provide a slow and mournful Fen style opening passage. Things soon move into blackgaze territory with an Alcest inspired movement of ethereal melodies. A quieter section then segues seamlessly into a groovy passage with some funky bass and exceptionally animated drumming that offers a very new element to the blackgaze sound. Things build towards a vociferous crescendo with a loose energy that touches towards post-hardcore territory.
The third set of tracks come from the EP These Mills Are Oceans, also released in 2019. It’s clear there’s a closeness between these two EPs because the energy of Entwined is immediately brought over into Eyes As Tableau. Its verses of reverberating staccato guitars, slick basslines and solid beats are held in contrast to the blackgaze choruses that echo once again with heavy vibes of Alcest.
Their Cities sounds as if Thursday had replaced Geoff Rickly with Aaron Stainthorpe, and is definitely the most well-written and well-rounded track on the record. It flows between the soft and heavy parts with tremendous craft and vision, maintaining the melodic tone that was set in its very first moments. The final track, Prague, opens with a slightly noisy ambient section coupled with cavernous vocals that add an air of black metal trepidation. Soon though we’re back into melancholic territory, with clean spoken word vocals and vibrant death growls leading another Alcest style movement of exquisite life-affirming melodies that close out the record brilliantly.
Across this near hour long collection there is a highly enjoyable line of progression. From the early tracks, which still maintain much of the band’s previous gloomy death-doom incarnation, through to the incredibly melancholic blackgaze sound develop in later tracks. Whilst theyhaven’t offered anything revolutionary to the blackgaze sound yet, there’s huge potential in the triple guitar wall of noise, the death growl vocals and the outstanding drumming for Sertraline to soon be at the forefront of the blackgaze genre.
There’s an element of sound saturation that appears on repeat listens, and on balance I feel that these three EPs still work best as individual records. However, this collection acts as a wonderful introduction to Sertraline, and as someone completely new to them it has definitely won me over.
Scribed by: Will J