Album: The Mortal Compass
Since the advent of mapmaking and exploration, mankind has been dependent on compasses, and the concept of “true north.” Since the Song Dynasty’s innovation of an iron-ore compass in the late tenth century, they have been a stalwart in navigation—now subtly tucked away in smart phones and car dashboards, symbolic of direction and purpose, they are as ingrained in society as the air we breathe. However, they hinge on a simple concept—they always point north. What happens when this is no longer the case? Where would they lead us and what would await us when we arrive? In this instance, the answer is to Palmerston North, New Zealand. A small town tucked between Toupo and Wellington with an evil so massive, it’s a marvel that it hasn’t engulfed the entire continent: Depths, and their latest release, The Mortal Compass. A combination of blistering, technically savvy death metal and lumbering, crushing –core influences, The Mortal Compass is the next logical step in the stride of a band whose previous works have redefined heaviness as we know it today.
In the long list of bands that have awoken from a hiatus or lengthy stretch of silence during the first half of 2015, Depths is among the most explosive. The Mortal Compass is home to precious few moments of respite, and once “The Cattle of Man” kicks in, the listener learns to savor them as much as they can. From the first explosive salvo, percussionist Shaun Anderson is simply unstoppable. If he isn’t carving deep trenches in the listener’s flesh with machine gun blast-beats during “Deity” or “Empire,” he is inflicting blunt-force trauma with his looming, deep toms and meaty, thick kick drum during “Kingdom Come” or “Rotworld.” Anderson isn’t satisfied relegating his talents to the blast beat-to-breakdown formula employed by endless numbers of Depths’ peers. Songs like “Deity” see Anderson experimenting with several combinations of catchy kick drum patterns and rapid fills to “spice up” the tried and true heavy music formula—all the while, aided by a galloping, gritty layer of grimy bass grooves from KahiBettridge. Bettridge takes Anderson’s beefy kick drum and dense toms and adds an extra layer of filth to it, giving Depths an even more crushing low-end that will steam roll the listener only to kick it into reverse and do it all again. However grisly Bettridge’s bass might be, the simple truth is that it is oft overwhelmed by the already low and dismal nature of Depths’ guitarists: JaeFaithfull and Jason Meadows. Just as Depths’ work on their previous albums pushed boundaries between conventional deathcoreand new, dissonant and devastating styles of prolapse-inflicting heaviness, the fretwork on The Mortal Compass is no exception. Tracks like “Blackest Night” are aptly named, showcasing Faithfull and Meadows’ expertise in contrasting low, ruthless chugs with atmospheric grooves and riffs that span over Anderson’s splashy drumming. However, “Deity” and “Rotworld” are no-holds-barred displays of devastation; combining lacerating riffs and cutthroat breakdowns in a manner aggressive enough to level mountains. Even “Dethrone” begins softly enough, but evolves into a world-ending cataclysm of crushing brutality that will sweep the listener away in a flood of filth.
With an uncompromising approach toward instrumental heaviness, the only obstacle left for these Palmerston publishers left to overcome is providing a fitting vocal accompaniment to their hellish soundscape. A bold task, but one that Joshua Bain accomplishes with what appears to be relative ease. Dominating a majority of The Mortal Compass with varying shades of low, visceral growls, Bain also provides the occasional shrieking scream or hefty, harsh mid-range yell. “Kingdom Come,” as well as “Rotworld” and the album’s title track showcase Bain’s range brilliantly, while the release as a whole serves as evidence of his unstoppable energy and remarkable stamina. “I’m the Waters ofLetyhe” is an excellent example of this—as Bain displays dominance and consistency with a series of low-and-lower gurgles. What Bain might lose with minimal variety, he easily gains back with eviscerating energy and aggression behind every syllable, making his work on The Mortal Compasssecond-to-none.
Expertly toggling atmosphere and aggression (“In the Waters…” Is a standout in this regard) when needed and dropping everything for a full-force display of shock and awe (“Deity” shines here), The Mortal Compass points only one way: straight to hell. Depths spare none in their all-inclusive display of boundless brutality, making a deathcore release fit for the genre’s all-time highlight reel. While some tracks ring more loudly and memorably than others, the takeaway is this: at the end of the album, the only thing ringing will be the listener’s ears. With breakdowns that range from slam-tinted and speedy, to stutter-stop and sludgy, linked together with intelligent, devious and sparingly technical passages of instrumental brilliance, Depths take the talent established on Resurgence and Revelations and improve it, refining it into an experience that leaves no survivors.
Depths prove once more that they can live up to their name—as The Mortal Compassdraws violence, putrefaction and punishment from the deepest circles of Hell just to send it flooding into the listener’s head. Depths have broken their silence, and the result is nothing short of deafening.
For Fans Of: Thy Art is Murder, Oceano, Boris the Blade, Martyr Defiled.
By: Connor Welsh