Band: Benthic Realm
Album: Benthic Realm (2017)
Where to buy: Bandcamp
It takes only twenty minutes for Benthic Realm’s self-titled EP to drag us to the bottom of the sea and show us the sights in astonishing contrast and clarity. Though a short release, the three songs on Benthic Realm are slower and longer on the album than they will be in your memory, as the band exercises extreme control and patience in both composition and execution. They are well-practiced hands at this. Guitarist and vocalist Krista Van Guilder and bassist Maureen Murphy, both formerly of Second Grave, joined with drummer Brian Banfield, formerly of The Scimitar, to create Benthic Realm in July 2016. They had in mind an explicit goal: to dredge up from the depths crushingly gorgeous evocations of their particular brand of doom.
The first stop on this tour of the ocean floor is “Awakening,” which begins with a sandy overdriven guitar and Van Guilder’s croon, beset by the heavy drums and bass before too long. The vocal notes are held long and her voice rises as phrases stretch out, in the same manner as a diver fighting for the next breath. Van Guilder even gives the lines just a bit of quavery vibrato, enough to be reminiscent of the way sound waves pulse through churning water. The lead guitar takes over for her, harmonizing with the established progression and matching rhythms only long enough to provide a stepping stone to the solo, which provides the album its first chromatic coloring, a motif repeated throughout the record. Listen closely to the chorus and you’ll hear the background wail, full of hopelessness and resignation to this inevitable musical journey. In conjunction with the song’s lyrical theme, of whether we can face the terrible truth of our circumstances, these wails are preparing us for the rest of the album.
Benthic Realm next declares an ultimatum, as “Don’t Fall in Line” instructs the listener to “question the right” and even goes so far as to admonish the collective for ignoring the plights of our fellows in favor of self-interest. The track does this against a background of despondently minor offerings, including a solo that again plays with chromaticism in two parts, one a vertical descending progression of parallel intervals and the other a horizontal repeated trill. In the last breaths of the song, the tempo changes to an even slower beat, a nice segue into the final and longest track. It takes “Where Serpents Dwell” a full minute-fifteen to rally all the instruments, and just when you think the lyrics will appear, the tempo cuts in half and the band builds another phrase before Van Guilder begins a serenade about the lowest places on earth. The syncopation between guitar and bass and drums here is excellent, and it’s clear that Benthic Realm has put a lot of thought into how to construct their musical edifice.
It takes tremendous patience to draw out these phrases, without rushing, over-complicating, or simply repeating them ad nauseam. Benthic Realm pulls this off in style, resulting in an EP that is as focused as they come. It’s easy to tell that all the band members are experienced professionals, and we are glad to entrust ourselves to their capable hands. The songs are full of purpose, and the sound is mature and comfortable in its form. There is no sense whatsoever of artifice or overreach, making Benthic Realm one of the best short records I’ve heard this year.