One of the very first reviews I wrote for Everything Is Noise was for Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean’s 2019 EP, Tell Me What You See Vanishing and I Will Tell You Who You Are. Prior to this, I’d never heard of the Massachusettan quartet, but I found their name, and the name of their EP, so intriguing. I’m a sucker for words (unsurprising, being a reviewer!); the more, the better, especially when the words themselves are simple, but combine to give such evocative meaning. I loved the bleak, simple imagery of something being lost and locked to the bottom of the ocean – perhaps a pale corpse, drifting gently, or a shipwreck shackled to the ground – abandoned, forgotten, and ancient.
Similarly, the EP title struck a chord with me. It intrigued me because I didn’t understand it – I did some research and found that it came from a W.S. Merwin poem called “For Now”. It’s a really gorgeous, abstract piece of writing – my favourite lines from it are ‘Goodbye kites painted with open mouths over the/Scarlet road of the animals’. How good! I can see why Chained chose a line from it to name their EP. I was hooked before I’d even heard a single note. Many of Chained’s album and song titles come from books or poetry – the band believe that ‘it’s impossible not to be influenced by everything around you, people just wear them on their sleeves differently‘.
These sort of wordy and descriptive titles have been part of Chained’s aesthetic from the beginning, starting back in 2017 with their first release, Decay and Other Hopes Against Progress (what a banging name for an EP!). It also includes one of my favourite song titles: “Confusion Hath Fuck His Masterpiece” – I love the contrast between the archaic ‘hath’ and the almost stilted-feeling sentence structure, and the aggressive, modern word ‘fuck’ (though, as I found out, that word has been used in the English language since the 16th century, or quite probably even earlier!). I also just love the mental image this phrase gives me – of a god or inventor working on his masterpiece, and then just suddenly losing track of what he’s doing, getting confused, and just plain fucking it up in the end.
Decay, far from just being a pretty face when it comes to names (see also: “Hollow Feeds the Emptying Death”), is also musically a twisted delight to behold. Some of my favourite Chained sections happen on “The Dead Who Climb up the Sky”, and “Four Cubits and a Span” is, in my opinion, one of the band’s greatest songs. It’s shorter than anything else they’ve written, and reminds me somewhat of Alice In Chains, with its bendy opening riff, but also in some abstract way of The Prodigy (don’t ask – I’m not sure I can musically back that up). It’s got a pretty succinct pop structure – every section slaps in a different way to the one before. It’s surprising, catchy, verging on industrial, the production is the perfect balance between clear and raw. The way it ends, too? Banger.
Chained’s second EP is, to me, an interesting one. It hits hard, it’s as dark and heavy as ever, and yet it’s got an odd air of optimism about it. The opening track, “I’ve Got A Gut Feeling”, while dense and fanged with fuzz, doesn’t seem as despairing and malevolent as some of their earlier tracks – and there’s a good reason for that; the original song is by Devo. The main riff reminds me a little of what I imagine a cheerful Crowbar song would sound like. I like it – it’s kind of refreshing, especially when set against vocals that are as harsh and vitriolic as ever. I think it’s an interesting move to start an EP with a cover, but it kind of sets the tone – as the name implies, there’s a confidence to the darkness of I Carry My Awareness of Defeat Like a Banner of Victory. Before it all comes crashing down, the second track “With Every Wrist Outstretched” is almost upbeat – not for long though. I think this is the band’s most grisly, twisted creation to date, changing mood unnervingly often, but never incoherent. I’m all about it.
Tell Me What You See Vanishing, the band’s third release, also opens with a cover. The opening track, “I Will Possess Your Heart”, is originally by Death Cab For Cutie, but calling it a ‘cover’ seems too reductive; it’s closer to a reinterpretation. The Chained version takes the gentle, introverted original, and twists it into something sinister and threatening. All of the lyrics, but especially the chorus (‘You’ve gotta spend some time, love/You’ve gotta spend some time with me/And I know that you’ll fine, love/I will possess your heart’) take on an air much less of uncertainty and secret admiration, and much more stalkerish obsession. This is brought to a point in the second verse: ‘There are days when outside your window/I see my reflection as I slowly pass/And I long for this mirrored perspective/When we’ll be lovers, lovers at last’. Pretty creepy when it’s being screamed at you over a dirty half-time, bass that’s fuzzed-out to near oblivion, and guitars that have only just become melodic after hanging as eerie feedback for the last few bars.
Being the first thing I ever heard by Chained, Tell Me What You See Vanishing definitely holds a special place for me. The whole thing is jam-packed with a festering, powerful attitude. “Out, Brief Candle” has one of my favourite sections on it – I don’t know if you’d call it a chorus, but it’s just heavy chugs and periodic, sickening bends, while the vocals snarl over the top, thickened by a subtle detuned double-track. The song alternates between punchy consistency and unnervingly spacious, writhing, nibbling sections – maggots on a carcass. And then, all of a sudden, we see the sun – beautifully melodic, yet still shrouded in fuzz, melancholic and gorgeous. I remember hearing this song for the first time, and I remember so clearly feeling like my chest was splitting open and becoming aware of the coldness of my skin, feeling like I was becoming ash, in the song’s return to harsh vocals:
‘An apology in
I want to feel again
There are times
I feel broken.
There are times
I am unwanted.
There is bittersweet in every moment
We’re at sea.
You form in
Every stream and
Every mark along my palm.
It’s the beauty of gardens
Against glass against
Everything in azure.’
I misheard the third line as ‘I want to fail again’, and I loved that – I don’t know which version I like more now.
Again, the sweet simplicity. The pure, open-mouthed, honest pain. Beautiful. With the contemplative, sparse yet strikingly heavy “Genesis of the Daffodil”, the EP grinds to an end, the three songs on it hefty, but leaving me wanting just a little bit more. Luckily for greedy-guts like me, the first three EPs have been brought together on 2020’s The Vestige, which is certainly a hearty listen – it’ll put you through the wringer, that’s for sure. So dense, so bleak, and yet so beautiful.
Near the end of 2022, Chained released their most recent EP – I Tried Catching You But You Fell Through Me. Of all their various, wordy titles that create bleak imagery, this is my favourite. Just the idea of the feeling of expecting to catch someone, and feeling them pass right through you – I imagine it’s similar to expecting a stair when there isn’t one. My friend David and I did a duo review for this EP, in which we discussed all sorts of things: our own journeys with Chained, the music of course, and the art. This EP still sounds very distinctly like Chained, but it feels somehow bigger, more confident, more spacious and yet more crushing. I think it’s my favourite. As the band say, they’re always looking forward and striving to ‘up’ each release from the previous one. The band feel they’re ‘definitely sharpened our knives a bit at this point, but otherwise I think we’ve always sounded like Chained’. Ever since they started in 2017, the band have been ‘looking to play loud music by way of our favorite bands: Neurosis, Crowbar, High on Fire, Graves at Sea, Amenra, etc. I believe we’ve stuck true to that formula and just done more of what we’ve always wanted to do and found exactly how we want to sound within our world.’
The band are looking forward to the release of their first full-length album, Obsession Destruction, in May. At the time of writing, they’d released one single, “Summer Comes to Multiply”, a lumbering, dense, mighty piece that’s somehow harmonically warmer than a lot of their earlier work, and yet more chilling. The vocals remind me on Sunn O))), sizzling and distorted almost beyond recognition, while the riffs verge on slowed-down death metal. It sounds classically Chained, and yet still somehow fresh – exactly what the band aim for.
When viewed side-by-side, the evolution in the band’s artwork is obvious and striking. The art on Decay was done by Alex Rojas, whose style was expanded on by Blial Cabal from I Carry to The Vestige – the album covers are stark, clean, black-and-white etching style works. Even within these early album covers, an evolution can be seen – the cover for Decay and Other Hopes is relatively simple, with each subsequent cover adding more detail and strangeness of imagery. There’s always something odd, to do with swords or death or martyrdom, but always a different flavour. They seem ancient, again, like long-forgotten artefacts. The band say they ‘loved working with Blial Cabal and think that art perfectly fits the tone of those releases’, and that the move away from this style was just because they ‘decided it was time for a change’.
Marcio Blasphemator, who created the art for I Tried Catching You But You Fell Through Me, certainly took a massive step away from the fine lines and monochromity of the earlier album covers, creating a piece with bold, quick strokes of colour, creating a sense of urgency and unsettling. There are two figures recognisable in the denseness of the colour; it appears, to me, to be a skeletal shape holding an infant. Recently, I released my first solo EP, and I painted the cover for it myself – the cover of I Tried Catching You, and Blasphemator’s art in general, were definitely inspirations for the style.
Chained’s upcoming album, Obsession Destruction, is adorned with art by the legendary Mariusz Lewandowski, an artist most well-known for his spectacular work on Bell Witch’s Mirror Reaper, who passed away last year. The band reached out to him and ‘he asked what the album was about and asked for no direction, just trust’. Chained were thrilled with this approach: ‘This is exactly the type of relationship I was looking for with the art…I remember the day he sent it to me, saying ‘let me know if you like it‘ as if there would be any question’. The band feel that Lewandowski and Blasphemator both perfectly summed up their respective albums.
Not long after I reviewed Tell Me What You See Vanishing, I was on the door for a local gig that my band was playing, taking peoples’ money and stamping their wrists to show that they’d paid, when a guy came in wearing a Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean hoodie. I said something along the lines of, ‘hey man, cool top!’, and when he offered me his wrist to stamp it, I noticed he had chain links tattooed there as well. He gave me a look that seemed to say ‘yeah, you might like Chained, but you’ll never like them as much as I do’. I truly believe he never said a word to me. I love seeing that sort of dedication, someone on the opposite side of the globe wearing a band like Chained permanently on his skin.
Chained have also done their fair share of live playing, including supporting some of their favourite bands: ‘We’ve all been listening to Thou, The Acacia Strain, and Indian since before we even knew each other, so playing with each of them was very special for us’. In general, Chained often feel a little out of place in their hometown, Springfield. As they put it, ‘sometimes it feels like we’re a little too doom for the hardcore kids, a little too hardcore for the doom kids, a little too weird for the trve metal kids, and a little too loud for most everyone else’. All the members of Chained cut their teeth playing with other bands around Massachusetts/New England, mainly in the DIY scene: ‘that’s still the lane we operate in much of the time’. In particular, Dracula in Holyoak, which is ‘a DIY warehouse spot that sounds better than most professional venues’, has played a huge part in their live careers. ‘We’ve found a good niche up here and are grateful for every person who’s ever decided it was a good idea to put up with us’.
Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean are…
Anonymous: ‘We think it’s more important that the music and the band as a whole stand together above its individual parts‘
With Obsession Destruction about to be released, and another EP just about ready to go, it’s certainly busy times for Chained. If you want to support them, you’re sure to find something that tickles your pickle in their extensive merch selection, which includes vinyl, CDs, cassettes, tees, and even skate decks! All of their music can be found on Bandcamp, and they are also on Facebook, so smash that like button for more grimy, sludgy, doomy goodness! Also check out this sick live set from Saint Vitus in 2022 – it’s a ripper.