Gloomy and evocative, Oldest Sea‘s debut album A Birdsong, A Ghost is a beautiful voyage through stormy waters.

Release date: December 1, 2023 | Darkest Records | Facebook | Bandcamp

One of the great curiosities in every music fan’s life is checking out the debut from a new band that once thoroughly impressed them at a local show. One has to wonder, will that same energy translate onto the album that gripped you on stage and leave you happily impressed once more? Or will you be left scratching your head, still remembering the show fondly but wondering what disconnect there was in the studio? For me, Oldest Sea’s debut album A Birdsong, A Ghost begs that question. They once took harbor in my local metal bar, and still being in the thrall of the most recent Messa album, their brand of emotive doom sucked me right in from the first note to the final chord. And after several listens, I am very happy to announce that Oldest Sea is just a gripping on their debut album.

A duo hailing from New Jersey, Oldest Sea’s sound is an interesting blend in doom metal that borders on the funereal, and the kinds of dark folk one would turn to musicians like Chelsea Wolfe or Marissa Nadler for. Across A Birdsong, A Ghost’s run time, songs will often trade between crushing, droning slow riffs, and forlorn passages that are far cleaner and less distorted, yet gritty with a vaguely Western twang. Around these central elements, light dressings of piano and distant, post-rock styled guitars add some outside flavor. But the core of their sound is pure gloomy doom, and it’s pretty great doom at that.

From the first moments of opener “Sacred Destruction,” the atmosphere across A Birdsong, A Ghost is dense and impeccable. A shimmering drone and layered, wordless vocals slowly grow denser and louder until spaced, dusty chords ring out, themselves slowly building and growing denser before a thick, distorted riff drops onto the listener, trudging it’s way forward and occasionally accompanied by a sad but pretty lead before dark, queasy chords take over. In some small way it recalls something like Esoteric’s epic “Circle”, just without the psychedelia and death growls.

“Sacred Destruction” manages to set the tone for this album extremely well. Second track and personal favorite “Uncertain” follows a similar trajectory of light folky chords balanced off against thick distortion, but it’s also a more melodic track with even more emotional heft. “The Machines That Make Us Old” comes to life on sparse, fuzzy chords that bring to mind the most quiet, somber moments of a band like Duster, while the heavier moments feel a bit snappier and more aggressive than much of the rest of the album. “Astronomical Twilight” serves as a beautiful mid-album piano interlude with some weight in its latter half, and “Metamorphose” feels absolutely washed out as a closer in the best of ways before a fuzzed out finale. Interestingly for a funeral doom album, these five songs only work out to about 37 minutes of music, and Oldest Sea’s brevity assures that not a single moment goes to waste.

As effective and emotional as the instrumental performance is across A Birdsong, A Ghost, it’s the vocals of frontwoman Samantha Marandola that really set this band apart from their peers. Her voice hits a middle ground of Emma Ruth Rundle and a slow-motion Stevie Nicks, and it complements the music perfectly. In addition to regular singing, many passages feature layers of ethereal, layered vocals to wonderful effect. And deeper in on “The Machines That Make Us Old,” Marandola even deploys a harrowing, black metal-esque shriek to drive the feelings home. Across the whole album, her vocals are a constant highlight that also serves the music perfectly.

Now, there are a number of other bands that comes to mind when listening to Oldest Sea. The heavier moments do make me think of groups like Ahab or the tragic beauty of Warning. The softer bits readily remind me of any of the aforementioned dark folk singer-songwriters, or perhaps incidental music from the Red Dead series. The lengthy intro of Dragged Into Sunlight’s Widowmaker came right to mind for the tense moments resting between those poles. But in spite of any comparisons I could make, I do feel like Oldest Sea has carved out a very particular sonic niche for themselves on their debut album that I found captivating and deeply moving. The nexus of dreary, dark folk music and emotionally devastating funeral doom is one that’s not explored nearly enough, and to hear a band debut with a perfect grasp on that blend is a beautiful thing to witness. The waters may be turbulent, and the atmosphere brooding, but Oldest Sea’s debut is a voyage worthy of taking for anyone up for the crashing of emotional waves.

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