Reviewed: July 2021
Released: 2021, Interstellar Smoke Records
Reviewer: Kieron Hayes
One archaeologist and 49 men stand at the gates of a previously unknown civilization, for a moment staring down into the bowels of the mountain before they begin their descent. The journey downwards turn out to be more dangerous than expected, they climb down through whirling stairs lit only by organic fluorescent lights…
Further down the path turns more and more crumbled, eventually they must use ropes to traverse the broken bridges and tunnels over the deep chasms below. Filled by the promise of treasure they continue downwards. Many men go missing as they’re tasked to explore diverting tunnels, they never return and their screams are followed by silence. The only thing found is their safety ropes; driven by greed the archaeologist continues the expedition.
The above text introduces the whole concept for this self-titled offering from Cavern Deep, and any fellow fan of dark tales and music to match should find themselves hooked right away. It’s a deliciously creepy premise, one ripe with grim potential, like a setup for a story by Stephen King, Clive Barker or H. P. Lovecraft, as small, fragile people venture into the deep, dark unknown, and this album regularly does a good job acting as a soundtrack for this story.
Indeed, one of the hallmarks of doom metal is its potential to create these atmospheres and dark stories. Even in its formative years it was doing it (just listen to the opening bell tolling of the song “Black Sabbath”), and when doom metal really came into it own it truly capitalised on this in songs like “A Sorcerer’s Pledge” or, later, much of My Dying Bride’s catalogue.
Cavern Deep definitely seek to continue that legacy, and they hit the mark more often than not. They make frequent and effective use of quieter passages and atmospheric effects to set the tone. Right in the first track, “Staring Down” we can palpably feel the dark foreboding of the characters as they look down into the depths. Everything feels withered and dreary, as if the narrator knows what’s coming as the light fades away. Following on, the unnerving quiet and echoes of “Abandoned Quarters” really do evoke the sense of exploring this dank, empty ruin.
All that’s left are the severed ropes,
And the distant cries,
On the road,
To the endless shafts…
With “Ominous Gardens” and “Waterways”, the album hits a definite stride, as together they represent some of the best material on here. Both make excellent use of gentler passages, lulling the listener into an almost hypnotic trance like the dripping of water within a cave. Peaceful like a tomb. “Waterways” takes an even darker tone, the oppressive danger in the quiet plain to hear:
Through this skeleton of tunnels,
In the bowels of this rusty machine,
Madness takes its toll in the waterways,
The mournful, layered chanting in the louder segments here is a perfect capstone to the atmosphere conjured: just as the softer passages invite you to let go and lie with the long dead, these louder sections are the dismal chants of the damned.
Sadly, there is a weaker point here, and it can be heard on tracks 5 and 8. Here, the vocals reach for something less ominous and more grandiose, and it doesn’t quite work as well as it should. It’s a shame, because the band have such a good thing going in so many other respects, and it’s not as if the vocals are consistently weak. There are songs where they’re great. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel a little much at these points. That eighth track, “The Dark Place” also feels like it could be a longer, more epic closer to the tale; it works okay as a wrap-up to the album as a whole, but could do more to stand on its own merits.
Still, this isn’t to suggest everything’s downhill after “Waterways”: “Fungal Realm” is another stonker, with eerie effects that conjure nightmarish images of swamps, slime and spores, and a great mournful stomper of a riff alternating in and out.
The chosen few,
I think they knew,
Life of sons,
Food of gods,
Stay as one,
My mind is melting away,
My mind is melting away…
Despite a couple of weaker points holding the album back from true greatness, there’s still loads to enjoy here, and great promise for the future if Cavern Deep can maintain this level of craft in meshing tales of horror with dark song-writing.
I give in to blissful sleep,
We are lost,