Sound: *shels is one of my favourite bands for a reason....they took a genre of music that was being overdone to death, and put it in a completely new perspective. Sea of the Dying Dhow was the first post rock / post metal / experiemntal metal record I heard and it blew me away in a way no other band has managed to yet. // 9
Lyrics: Mehdi Safa is a skilled songwriter and vocalist, vital to the album's overall sound. The lyrics as such tend to be slightly abstract in nature, but talk of specific subjects as well. They talk of beauty, love, nature, bravery, and peace in a way that I can actually connect with. Although fairly sparse, the lyrics on this album hold a deep message that can only be felt from the album as a whole.
"When the water comes around...us,
let's poison ourselves!
put this starfish in your hands
and close your eyes again." // 10
Overall Impression: Distant, ghostly guitar notes, quiet bass drones and a cloud of anticipation.... essential components of possibly one of the best song, or in fact, album introductions I have had the pleasure of hearing; one of the many reasons that *shels' Sea of the Dying Dhow fits the dictionary definition of Musical Materpiece. With a song like Conference of the Birds at the start, the expectations are set very high. The sheer ingenuity in this track shows that *shels is one band that is certainly not afraid to experiment. The trumpet section, sure to cause goosebumps every time, is a clear depiction of this experimental path that *shels treads.
From here, the album moves into a slightly more typical post-rock feel, albeit with a very atypical *shels spin on it. One of the most noticeable features, one that is audible throughout the album is the extensive use of acoustic guitar to build dynamics. Indian 1 is representative of that, with the repetitive, yet steady build-up of music, all the way till the explosive, overdriven ending. Closely following this is The White Umbrella (Parts 1 and 2). Going from ambient music to explosive, riff ridden metal and back is what this band does best, and they definitely deliver with this track. At nearly eleven minutes in length, it holds some of the finest moments in post rock. With the soothing acoustic riff and the keyboard and drum parts slowly adding to it, it eventually reaches a crescendo, no doubt constructed to fully vent the songwriter's frustrations. The White Umbrella, of all the songs on the album, is possibly the most successful at depicting why *shels also falls into the post-metal genre.
Water (Part 1) follows up, with simple chord structures and drumming, all intermingling in a way that's slightly reminiscent of shoegaze, and showcases singer Medhi Safa's unique vocal and lyrical styles in a way that no other song does. However, this is a just a teaser, with the full version of Water released later, on the Laurentian's Atoll EP. Further emphasizing their drone and ambient styles, courtesy of Ed Mathews' excellent atmospherics and the whiplash inducing guitarwork, the eponymous Sea of the Dying Dhow takes its place halfway through the album.
The next four tracks, Atoll, The Killing Tent, Indian Part 2 and Return to Gulu, steer the album into a wave of melancholy, all the while drawing influence from African, Native American and Middle Eastern musical styles. At no point does the band allow the sound to get boring, always bringing in new elements and allowing the music to flow freely. The sheer emotion behind these tracks induce a mellow, peaceful mood; an appetizer for what's to come next.
Although still enveloped in the themes from the previous songs, In Dead Palm Fields, clearly heads in a more fast paced direction. However, when everything stops, and a lonely acoustic guitar begins its aural voyage, an impending sense of closure makes itself known. The final ascension, the song eventually steps back into metal territory with powerful drumming leading the way for some very creative guitar and bass work and possibly the heaviest vocals on the album. Concluding, after a few seconds of silence, with a short ambient piece, the full impact of the album is still not felt. The best music takes many, many listens to truly appreciate, and Sea of the Dying Dhow is no exception, revealing layers upon layers with each listen.
*shels will be releasing their second full length album Plains of the Purple Buffalo later this year. By all accounts, it will match up to and possibly even surpass their first with ease. Here's to hoping for another masterpiece! // 9