The Slow Dying of the Great Barrier Reef by BismuthRelease date: November 2, 2018
Label: Dry Cough Records / Rope or Guillotine / Medusa Crush Recordings / Tartarus Records
This is huge, in every sense. The length: enormous. The concept: massive. The fright you get about 12 minutes into the title track: around eight times that of the big scare in Nightmare on Elm Street.
It is difficult to know where to start with a body of work as intimidating and weighty (not to mention heavy) as this. It is phenomenally affecting and the title alone makes the listener think about the gradual destruction that humans are inflicting on the earth, specifically the 2,800km ecological miracle that is the Great Barrier Reef off the east coast of Australia.
But it is drone doom, which as a genre is almost too unwieldy to warrant description using mere words. It is almost like you have to speak about this sort of music in Morse-code explosions, or sub-sonic underwater growls, to do it justice.
Yet alas, we have only 26 letters to speak about this work by Bismuth – who, incidentally, boast possibly the most apt band name in music, given that it is a faintly radioactive heavy metal with an extremely slow decay and super-long half-life.
So we will start with the basics: it is really, really good. It begins with an almost ambient synth tone, albeit one that conjures mental images of swimming underwater in an empty abyss. A heavily-echoed bass enters the proceedings, strumming chords which add to the eerie sense of floating in an imposing yet not unpleasant marine trench.
Then comes the angelic vocals lulling you into a soporific state. Until the death-march drums kick in (after about 12 minutes, as mentioned) and the vocals switch to a blackened screech. The bass moves up and down a few frets, in a deliciously warm progression, during the centre of the second movement – to call this work a mere song would be selling it short – before the drums are left to stomp their way through a morass.
Then the bass comes back. And what a noise. Enveloping and intimidating, especially paired with the evil vocals of Tanya Byrne, the player of said instrument, which, it must be said, sounds like it is played by a zombie Johnny Ramone gleefully slamming out F-shaped barre chords at a funereal pace.
The final movement goes back to the ethereal vocals, echo-drenched clean bass and hypnotic synth, giving us a sense that everything in our sight as we sink slowly into the sonic depths is devoid of life.
Which presumably is the aim: after all, humans are destroying the Great Barrier Reef at an unforgivable rate. Climate change is the biggest threat to the delicate ecosystem, but plastics, petrochemicals and even sun-tan lotion are also contributing to the reef’s destruction.
The second song, ‘Weltschmerz’, is ugly, groovy, distorted and crushingly heavy. On any other release it would garner metaphorical standing ovations. But paired with the title track, it is almost light relief. And that is meant as a compliment, such is the gravity of the 32-minute opus that is the main event of this album.
As alluded to above, drone doom is not to everyone’s taste. Indeed, we are probably talking about single percentages in the general population who would attest to an affinity for the genre. But when done well, like this – and when given enough time – it is tremendously satisfying. So even if you think you don’t like it, give this a listen. At the very least you will be woken to the fact that humans are slowly destroying one of the most beautiful and fragile parts of the planet.