SEA, Impermanence: Awaited Cascade

SEA Impermanence (cover by Nathaniel Parker Raymond)

In the nearly five years since they released their 2015 self-titled debut EP (review here), Boston-based four-piece Sea — generally stylized all-caps: SEA — have toured Europe, and released two splits, one in 2016 with Weedwolf (discussed here) and one in 2017 with KYOTY (discussed here) — all the while working toward their inevitable debut full-length. Self-released and running five tracks and a surprisingly tidy 42 minutes considering the expansiveness involved, Impermanence is that album. Recorded in 2018 with Keith Gentile at Labyrinth Audio, mastered by Nick Twohig and topped off with suitably colorful and deep-toned artwork by Nathaniel Parker Raymond, its songs bring together elements of SubRosa-style emotive post-metal with bursts of blackened intensity, a wistfulness that seems to fight against itself emerging in the flow of tracks that show a striking amount of patience for being a debut that speaks to the conscious sense of purpose behind the music being created.

That is, on progressive terms, SEA come across as having control of what they want their sound to be, and their songwriting is built accordingly, with headphone-ready lushness of tone from guitarists Mike Blasi (also theremin) and Liz Walshak (also vocals) and bassist Stephen LoVerme (also vocals) and further texture of synth added by drummer Andrew Muro, since out of the band and replaced by the same Keith Gentile who produced. That reorganization of lineup may be part of the delay between the recording process and actually releasing the digipak CD and righteously snazzy, limited-to-100 gold-painted cassette, but there may have been other factors or delays as well, whether it was a question of a label search or a simple holdup in manufacturing.

In any case, the adage “good food takes time” would seem to apply, and one could hardly call SEA‘s efforts and the time they’ve put into crafting this material anything but correctly spent, however long it took to actually put it out. Their clarity of intent is realized in the breadth and resonant scope of their shifts, and in stretches aggressive or pastoral, they retain a balance of urgency and atmosphere that makes Impermanence all the more engrossing.

To return briefly to one point above, one generally thinks of “headphone-worthy” as a designation reserved for trans-dimensional psychedelia, and there are few clichés in any form of rock and roll more trite than “louder is better,” but the more attention to detail a listener can put into Impermanence, the more that listener is going to be rewarded for the effort, and if that takes headphones and volume to properly tune the focus, so be it. Whether it’s the interplay between LoVerme (ex-Olde Growth) and Walshak (ex-Rozamov) on vocals, throughout the love song that is second cut “Shrine” or Walshak‘s screams early in opener “Penumbra,” the placement of which at the outset of the record proves a brilliant move in terms of quickly broadening expectation on the part of the audience and setting a vast context for the rest of what follows.

The melodic arrangements have no less depth than their harsher counterparts though, and both exude a proggy reach that, in “Penumbra,” resolve in a wistful guitar line that’s familiar but not easy to place — is it Neurosis? Something more metal? It’s hard to be sure, and that ends up part of the appeal, because while one is sitting and trying to figure it out, SEA are fluidly moving into the reverence of “Shrine,” which brings LoVerme to the fore vocally backed by whispers and presents a heavy ambience not unlike the aforementioned SubRosa‘s 2016 apparent-swansong, For This We Fought the Battle of Ages. Yes, that is a compliment, and not one given lightly. The procession of “Shrine” brings duet-style melodies from Walshak and LoVerme over the steady punch of snare from Muro, a growl deep in the background circa the halfway point positioned effectively for ambience.


Ending with feedback on a fade, it’s the drums that start centerpiece “Ashes,” which brings further layered lyrical poetry over its subdued beginning and gradually unfolds to a weighted post-rock before the blastbeats kick in and Blasi and Walshak‘s guitars present a run of Alcest-worthy echoing squigglies, soon enough hitting a point of receding as the mellow cycle would seem to begin anew. Spoken and sung lines are woven together as “Ashes” works toward its shout-topped apex, giving ground to the four-minute interlude “Ascend” ahead of closer “Dust.”

The final movement of Impermanence is crucial. On the tape — and presumably the case would be the same on vinyl — “Ascend” and “Dust” stand alone on side two, and as the latter runs 13:32 and is far and away the longest inclusion on the record, with the instrumental, noisy experimentalism of “Ascend” leading directly into it, that’s fair enough. Of course, the interlude is just that — a shift putting the listener from one place to another on the longer course of the album — but its hypnotic aspects aren’t to be discounted, and it does fall back to silence before the steady lead-in from Muro begins “Dust” in earnest, soon joined by LoVerme‘s bass, and, eventually, the guitar. A full heft is brought to bear soon enough as the guitars arrive, and they’re not two minutes in before they’ve built up to a point of blasting away.

A key difference is in how those typically black metal elements are brought into the fold of SEA‘s post-metal style. As guttural shouts echo out over the still-early-going of “Dust” ahead of a turn to quiet guitar and more folkish melodies, setting in motion a build that the second half of the song will pay off in a wash of doom riffing, outward-directed guitar leads, and richly-conceptualized progression unfurling, the notion of the closer acting as a summary of the record on which it appears is very much a factor, but SEA are still pushing toward new ground as well, rhythmically and melodically.

Perhaps that too is a summary of the mindset driving the album and indeed the band overall, since as well directed as they are in terms of the flow in and between their songs and the construction of the material here, they never stop showcasing that will to find some nuance or melody yet uncovered. In terms of forward potential, that ethos speaks volumes — and the fact that it was recorded two years ago would seem to hint toward growth that’s likely already taken place — but one shouldn’t take Impermanence as simply a look at what SEA might become at the expense of appreciating what they’ve already accomplished. In ways most first albums could never hope for, its spaciousness and density work in tandem, and even its most purposefully ugly moments are gorgeous.

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