The ocean is vast, and full of mystery. Its vastness and depth cannot be fathomed without external instruments, and we still do not know all that calls it home. We seek it out on our terms: sunny and blue and close to shore, preferably with a cooler nearby. Dreadnought use a deeper, darker and more forboding version of the ocean as the template for their third enormous album, A Wake in Sacred Waves, and the result is a mesmerizing and engulfing musical experience.
From debut album Lifewoven in 2013 it was immediately apparent the Denver, CO collective were ambitious. Blending modern doom and 70s folk/prog with an ambition that matches their musical proficiency, both Lifewoven and follow-up Bridging Realms were epic in scope, not afraid to get weird when necessary, and above all, done with a solemnity that was reassuring even as its immensity threatened to smother you. So much of the success of both album was due to a fearlessness to not tone things down, to structure long songs like breaths, letting each section settle before moving on. Take a song like “Odyssey” from Bridging Realms to see how to take 14 minutes and turn it into an adventure.
It’s interesting to see how Dreadnought take this sense of musical adventure and fold into a darker, heavier palette for A Wake in Sacred Waves. It’s all still there, this time expanded with saxophones, mandolins, and other instruments, but structuring the album around a water theme, specifically a concept about an organism evolving in its habitat to become an apex predator, only to fall from its lofty heights (or depths, in this case). Over the course of its four tracks, the riffs take on the enormity of the sea, rolling over and over in gargantuan waves. There are moments when you forget for a moment what you’re listening to, as the vocals (courtesy of stellar performances from Kelly Schilling and Lauren Vieira) move from ethereal to shrieking despair and rage. Their telepathy with each other and with bandmates Jordan Clancy and Kevin Handlon who round out the rhythm section keep everything moving and locked, even as some of the passages reach into spacier terrain.
Opening with “Vacant Sea” the intro deceives you into thinking things will start gently, but very quickly organ and drums kick in and the shrieking starts. There’s an Opeth vibe in the almost classical feel of the riffs, and as things ebb and flow (things get delightfully evil at about the six minute mark) a saxophone sound off, and the second half of the songs restates everything that came before, subtle changes informing everything until it ends with the gentleness that started it. “Within Chanting Waters” begins suitably epic, with a sense that Dreadnought can really do whatever they want musically and you’d buy it right away. Vocally there are moments that recall Jeff Buckley, even as the music moves between Sabbath-laden doom and Pink Floyd. “To Luminous Scale” is an exercise in escalation, the gentleness of the beginning ascending to greater and great heights. By the time of closer “A Drifting Reign” you’re left exhausted but alive, having traversed a tapestry of songs that succeed in scope and ambition like few albums can when attempting this many different musical ideas.
There is a time and a place for Dreadnought. Theirs is a art that demands attention, total absorption in the waves of sound overlapping and pulsing around and through you. Like its elemental influence, A Wake in Sacred Waves is so huge you become acutely aware that it flows through you even as it surrounds you. Like all the best music does.