I was a teenager when shoegaze arrived in New Zealand in the late 80s and early 90s. At that time, metal and punk ruled my world. So the jingling and jangling sounds of the indie spectrum weren’t of much interest to me initially. But then I heard the wall of noise brought by bands like My Bloody Valentine,The Jesus and Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, and Swervedriver. And then a whole new world of music opened up for me.
Those bands, and plenty of other more gothically inclined groups, showed me that music didn’t have to be as sonically heavy as metal or punk to be as emotionally shattering. In fact, I’d argue that a lot of indie and gothic rock from the 80s and 90s was as grim (or grimmer) than any metal from the same period.
Still, I’m not here to reminisce, or argue. I just wanted to emphasise that discovering shoegaze encouraged me to more fully explore the human condition via a lot of different––albeit, still mostly very dark––music. The point being, it’s been really heartening in recent times to see a new generation of bands bringing those same elements of dark and introspective shoegaze and indie rock back to the fore. Bands like the often mournful and always masterful four-piece Sunken Seas.
Auckland, New Zealand-based Sunken Seas unquestionably dig into the past to combine chilling and sinistrous shoegaze with even colder post-punk on their second full-length, Glass. But let’s not confuse elements inspired from a previous age of music with any suggestion that Sunken Seas rely on nostalgia to sell their sound. Far from it, Sunken Seas’ much-celebrated debut, Null, was an icy album injected with abundant grit and dissonance from the fields of contemporary alternative rock. The band’s follow-up EP, *Cataclysm, *featured much the same temperament and temperature as well. However, Glass is even more portentous in tone.
Glass is definitely a frosty album, but it’s not unfriendly. If anything, the way a storming track like “Clear” sounds like the The Jesus and Mary Chain covering Bauhaus and Killing Joke simultaneously––and is just so goddamn heavy and *intense––*it’s impossible not to get swept up in it. You can easily add “Metasoma” and “Mirage” to the utterly mesmerising and raucous bracket too. But it’s not all shards of jarring noise on Glass.
You can rest in the calmer shadows of tracks like “Scarlet” and “Alt Figure”. At least until the brain-drilling distortion found on “Wesley” appears. And gloomy vocals, strident guitars, an often motorik pulse, and nuanced glimmers of drone, darkwave and post-rock keep things multifaceted and captivating throughout.
In all, Glass is a hugely impressive album. It’s foreboding, with plenty of ill-omened atmospherics underscoring its heavy-hearted artistry. There are manifold textures and dense layers of melancholic and thundering sounds to unpack and enjoy on Glass’ nine tracks too. And there’s plenty of dramatic and engaging energy to the album as a whole. Most importantly of all, for all the darkness engulfing Glass, it never overshadows or obscures the talent or beauty therein.
Glass is highly recommended for fans of eloquent and impassioned music.Sunken Seas are heading out on tour to celebrate the release of *Glass. *See dates below.
Sat 17 October, Valhalla, Wellington
Fri 30 October, Darkroom, Christchurch
Sat 31 October, Chick’s Hotel, Dunedin
Fri 6 November, The Wine Cellar, Auckland
Tickets are on sale now via Under The Radar.