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Departure Songs is a critical addition to Sydney’s post-metal, dark melodic scene. An album that is conceptual as much as it is an elegy, it is an atmospheric journey through pitch black terrain punctured with grey light, but light nonetheless.
Flush with a narrative of loss and hope, and the discovery to be found in each, We Lost the Sea have taken real life events as inspiration to inject a formidable storm-cloud of an album that travels low on the ground and gains momentum, power and poignancy as each song moves onto the next, so that by the end you feel, if a little winded, but a strangely fulfilling idea of hope.
An album that is conceptual as much as it is an elegy, Departure Songs is a dense, atmospheric trip through pitch black terrain punctured with grey light, but light nonetheless.
Each track is a story that revolves around a heroic act that benefitted others, even humanity on the whole, but ended in dire circumstances for the person or persons who made that act. This is the guts of the album, its blood, and loans an overarching chill when you go into listening to it with it a fact turning in your brain. Funereal, but breathtaking, it never indulges in its sadnesses but rather celebrates the adventure of life and in death and those who have impelled us to reach higher and broach new limits.
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Departure Songs is an eerily befitting a title for a band who saw the untimely departure of its vocalist, Chris Torpy, who sadly died a few years ago. It is another angle that infuses the band with a broad, thoughtful, stark and grim connotation and resonance but ultimately, incredibly touching.
In tune with post-rock forefathers such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Cult of Luna, and A Silver Mount Zion, what we have here is a ghostly architecture that we are invited to explore sonically. Grief is a weighty, weighty theme, but managed by We Lost the Sea with sensitivity and insight enfolded in a bleak beauty.
One aspect I feel really adds to the effect of each song, is the use of sounds affects to coerce the listener into a very specific place. In The Last Dive of David Shaw there is the sound of breaths through scuba equipment, and again, knowing the ill-fated final submersion of David Shaw, you are immediately carrying a pit in the centre of your stomach. With him, you make that final dive, the music dragging you with it until that final end. For those who don’t know, David Shaw is one of only eleven people who reached the depth of 240 metres below sea level on a self-contained breathing apparatus when things turned wrong as he attempted to rescue a fellow diver, whose body had already begun to decompose. Confronting material, indeed.
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A Gallant Gentleman creeps towards a churning climax and concerns Lawrence Oates, an explorer, who chose to sacrifice himself to the wilds of that icy wilderness so his colleagues on an Antarctic expedition would have a greater chance of surviving with one less person. The final strains of bracing winds and bravery in the face of shadowy, lonely horror blasts us with a rising, circulating soundscape that absorbs and circles outwards into a devastating all-consuming sonic parable. It is a perfect representation of the kind of mythology woven into this kind of music – majesty, and irrevocably linked to uncomfortable themes and uncertain redemption. The storm we are traveling with cracks open the sky and that’s only the first track. From there on, you’re delightfully screwed.
Two tracks, named after the ill-fated Challenger missions, are together, further emotional wreckage, bringing to mind blunt blue above, the elation of the faces below watching the rocket soar into the sky, and the sickening sound and sight of it exploding in a 1986 sky, only seventy three seconds into ascending. What we remember, via voice overs worked into the track and the two tracks (Flight and A Swan Song) is exactly what We Lost The Sea were exploring – the huge scope of loss and the appreciation for life and bravery reflected in its face, when we faced to stare into it, as we all will be asked to at some point.
The music wordlessly expresses feeling and tone along a vast and isolated route. The tracks thunder and shatter, and in quieter moments, we are encouraged to take in the panorama around us. Even in the absence of warmth there is a feeling, however disquieting, to cling to. And, that’s where hope sneaks in, all temporal and remote. There are elements of life that need no lyric to sustain it, and Departure Songs says all it needs to without need word, as the album closes and we wave goodbye, and along with the band, we feel changed.
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