Wherever you are, whatever your situation is, I hope you’re well and safe. It’s not ideal times, but I’m looking on the bright side by taking advantage of good tunes and a lot of extra time to listen to them. One album that I’ve been really excited to dive into is Chrome Ghost’s sophomore full-length The Diving Bell. Although digitally released last November, the album is getting a physical release via Seeing Red Records. Whether you’re already a fan or you’re just hearing about it now, do yourself a favor and get the vinyl of this one. You’re worth it.
The Diving Bell is something of a departure for the Sacramento-based doom/sludge/post-rock outfit, according to frontman, guitarist and vocalist Jake Kilgore. “The Diving Bell is a journey through deep and troubled waters, suffocated by anxiety and mesmerized by shimmering rays of light,” writes Kilgore of the album, and I feel like that’s about as good as it can be summed up. There’s plenty of deep, slow and murky guitar tones that crush with weight and dissonance, but there isn’t a loss of balance through the songs. There’s plenty of light, with gentle clean and acoustic passages and soaring delay and reverb-soaked lead lines to counterbalance the moody trudge of the guitars and drums. Not least among the textural elements that lend a balance to the heaviness are the mostly clean vocals of Kilgore. Soaring over the dense layers underneath, they’re surprisingly pleasant mixed with everything else. They aren’t buried in the mix the way you often find with an album described as “post-” anything, but they’re not so forward that they’re the only thing you can focus on. They add a really nice level of melodic contrast and help drive the cinematic quality of the album, although I do find myself missing some harsh vocals in certain tracks. Rounding out the interesting textures are bowed upright bass and waterphone, courtesy of Jake #2 (in order of appearance in this review, of course), drummer Jake Hurst. Although only featured prominently on the closing track “Visions,” it’s nice to see a power trio not afraid to branch out in terms of instrumentation. At the end of the day, it’s about what serves the song, and though they’re outside of the box choices they fit with the sonic palette the band cultivates.
One of my favorite cuts, opening track “Waltz in the Shadow of the Hillside,” starts with an almost Inter Arma like chug that collapses into clean acoustic guitars before slamming back down to earth with pounding drums and discordant guitars underlaying gentle vocals. There’s a lot of going back and forth between lighter passages and heavier ones, which is Chrome Ghost’s thing, and for the most part the transitions are seamless. There are a few parts, on “Waltz” and “Visions” specifically, where they jump a little too abruptly between passages and the flow of the song gets broken up for me. It definitely doesn’t ruin the overall track though, and for the most part the ebb and flow of intensity in these songs is just right. Even though the band plays with the dynamics in the same way on “Halo,” it works there because they don’t break off in the middle of building to something without warning. “Halo” starts with furious blast beats, but when the dynamics shift it gives the listener a chance to breathe and build anticipation. It doesn’t feel anti-climactic. Again, it’s only in one or two spots I get that feeling and I can’t stress how small and personal of a nit-pick that is. The truth is that this is an exceptional album that shows innovation within the genre, and a high-quality vinyl release will allow a lot more of the rich textures to pop.
Chrome Ghost aren’t quite a household name in the sludge genre (at least, as far as my household goes) or doomgaze, but this album proves that they deserve to be. There’s something really special about listening to albums with vision, and this album has it in spades. It’s cinematic in all the right ways, it tells a story with words and texture and it’s stupid heavy, which is never a problem for me. Now more than ever it’s so important to support the creative people who make the world a better place, so if you have the extra scratch to put down, pick this one up in a format that lets you really appreciate what Chrome Ghost have achieved here. I guarantee* you won’t be sorry.
(*not an actual guarantee, please don’t send us nasty messages on Twitter if you don’t agree)