The buzz is building on Nova Scotia’s nautical sludge duo Sea Witch, and we didn’t want to be left out. The second part of their demo has just been released and can now be purchased as a double cassette from Small Doses; one may purchase the parts separately, but that would be like rowing with one oar.
As my brother-in-law remarked over Christmas, “It’s easy to make doom, but it’s hard to make doom well.” This is why we don’t review a lot of it; even the label was surprised when we signed up for the review. But Sea Witch is a different beast ~ in this case, a behemoth. As Above/So Below is a thick, cloud of debris being sucked into a five-fathom-deep whirlpool, with no light in sight, merely phantasms. Loosely inspired by W. Miller’s engraving “The Shipwreck” (seen below), the voyage is doomed from the start. After a surprisingly short and punchy introduction (the 3:46 “Into the Depths”), the album begins to sink to the ocean floor. Every flurry of drums is like a panicked gulp of air before a sailor goes down; every slow, plodding beat is like the inexorable sinking of a massive wooden ship. Was it a dragon that caused the catastrophe, or a whale, or a rogue wave? The cassette cover seems to indicate the former. Monster or no monster, the frigid seas will do their part.
Sea Witch’s biggest surprise is its size. A duo shouldn’t be able to make a sound this reverberant, but they do. In addition to the damaging drums, gnashing guitars and bruising bass, one encounters the presence of an accordion. Seemingly ambivalent to the sailors’ plight, the accordion attempts to offer a bit of ballast, and even when it is thrown overboard, its impact remains: this isn’t only doom, but a vast sadness, a personal loss in the midst of a larger tragedy. This deep emotion is first found at the beginning of “Out of the Depths”, the closing piece on As Above, resurfacing throughout So Below.
“As Above”, the lead track on So Below (don’t ask), is the set’s most direct piece, built on a repeating riff that is memorable and succinct. But then the final descent begins, as the two part “Dragged Across the Ocean Floor” unfolds, nearly half an hour in total length. One pictures the bodies as seen from the ocean depths, the ship shattered into planks and nails, and finally the sun blotted out ~ first filtered into deep blue, then fogged grey, and at last, unstoppable black. Even the swiftest of sequences (for example, at the center of Part I) seem but feeble protests: surely this can’t be it?
What happens next? For the protagonists, nothing; they’re dead. But for Sea Witch, perhaps a crisp remastering of the album and a wider release. In one sense, we wish for the duo such a happy fate; in another, we fear that the demo’s overall sense of dread might be muted without the murky quality of its sound. In this instance, lo-fi is better: as waterlogged as rotted wood, crumbling in the hands as it washes up on shore. (Richard Allen)