Level Plane Records putting out a half-cheesy release? Why, I never...!
Well, I just think that's the case with Drain the Sky's Haunted by Rivers LP. Drain the Sky actually write pretty impressive, ambient post-metal type stuff, but the haunting and dim moods they convey are practically rendered to cornball antics because of their vocals. There's something about George Wunderlich's voice that just comes off forced and fake. When he sings in this whispery, coarse murmur that might provoke comparisons to the vocalist for the band's heavy influence (Neurosis), I truly just believe his delivery makes an otherwise serious and arresting album an unintentional mockery of the style.
The drone of the title track opener mostly sets the mood for the rest of the album -- musically, at least. Wunderlich is found singing in the aforementioned manner, but with repeated listening his delivery makes more and more sense. But that's a rare scenario of his singing actually working.
The record is spiced up with quite a bit of crust-inflected nausea, and as bassist Carl Auge once played in His Hero Is Gone, that makes sense. The constant hum of the album might be a little much if not for these radical changeups. The middle of "Sightless" has some of this, where it then leads back into more expansive territory and Wunderlich provides throaty screams that fit perfectly. "Concrete Memories" has plenty as well, with the band playing at a bit of a slower speed; but then Wunderlich tries his hand at a more melodic, then creepy level and it ruins the song's momentum. It's wonderful that Wunderlich tries to be versatile, but he doesn't always hit the mark. The worst offender is "A Fragile Mind," where Wunderlich comes four minutes in and the song just collapses under the weight of his apparent dry heaving; the same can be said for "The Spoils of Doctrine."
There are a couple songs that aren't fly by okay, though. On the A Side, the aforementioned title track should grow on you while "Sightless" and the intense, brooding-then-bursting "Starving in Time" are lovely. With Side B, Wunderlich has a little yelling fit in "Learning to Swim," but it's fine; aside from some politically-minded audio clip from somewhere, "A Sorrowful Empire" is instrumental, even though it's actually fairly middling overall; "Rivers" is a brief but effective closer.
Overall, Haunted by Rivers is very hit or miss. There's some powerful stuff going on here, but the moods Drain the Sky try and establish are occasionally ruined by their own ambition.
Learning to Swim
A Fragile Mind