Despite the fact that they originally formed way back in 1992, German death metal band Drowned has largely remained in the shadows over the years due to a fairly spaced out discography. Much of their original run came in the form of demos throughout the mid to late 90s and early 2000s, with lineup shifts contributing to periods of inactivity. The current incarnation of Drowned came together somewhere around 2012 and they finally released their debut full length Idola Specus in 2014. This effort showcased a group that still channeled that original 90s sound to maximum effect, with an emphasis on slower, plodding instrumentation alongside some faster attacks. For those that preferred their death metal on the cavernous and methodical side, Idola Specus had plenty to offer, but it would take another decade for a follow-up to emerge. Procul His builds naturally on its predecessor, retaining that old-school murk and weight to the instrumentation but bringing some slightly clearer production and additional nuances with it.
“Star Tower” gives you a good idea of what Drowned is going for throughout Procul His, as it wastes no time in launching into a dense mid-tempo attack of weighty riffs and drum work alongside some ominous sounding leads that inject a considerable amount of atmosphere. The production provides plenty of that old-school crunch and heft to the sound, but compared to Idola Specus there’s a bit more clarity and the smaller details pop out a bit more. It’s an approach that works to the band’s advantage, as it retains that cavernous feel but allows the leads to soar over the recording and reach some tense and foreboding levels. Tracks like “Phantom Stairs” make great use of this, moving from slower riffing that ebbs and flows with an almost progressive flair to it over to faster blasting that ups the aggression. This is enhanced by some additional instrumentation, as “Phantom Stairs” has some moodier synth while “Seed of Bones” incorporates the mellotron to inject some creepier melodies that work well alongside the death metal foundation. While Drowned does favor a slow burning approach, sometimes bringing Incantation to mind, there are tracks like “Man In Devil In Man” that go for more of a chaotic, swirling approach to break things up. When the band nails it, the combination of destructive riffing and darker melodies provides some incredible twists and turns that gives plenty of reasons to return. It did take me a few times through for some of the material to click though, and some of the slower passages tended to run together due to how similarly they’re constructed. Closer “Chryseos Vas” also felt like it dragged on for just a bit longer than it needed to, but these flaws are outweighed by just how entrancing the highs are.
Vocalist G also fronts black metal band Essenz, and while there are some similarities with Drowned he has really pushed himself into much lower pitched territory. His growls come through with a considerable amount of power, and the clarity of the production makes them stand above the instrumentation without overwhelming it. It’s a familiar but effective approach, and the abrasiveness of the vocal work provides a nice contrast with some of the melodic guitar leads. There is subtle variation to the performance, with the occasional shift over to a slightly higher pitch, but for the majority of Procul His the lows dominate. Sometimes with death metal of this type bands prefer to bury their vocals in the mix, so I appreciate that Drowned chose to really emphasize them throughout the album.
It may have taken almost an entire decade for Drowned to resurface after Idola Specus, but the wait has been worth it. A few of the slower moments blur together a bit and the closing track feels a bit longer than it needs to be, but the tense and mysterious atmosphere alongside the number of riffs that stand out over repeat listens makes this one worth your time. Drowned’s approach is likely to most appeal to a specific type of death metal fan who goes for atmosphere and methodical build-ups over constant blasting, and if that sounds like you then you’re going to want to invest some quality time with this album. Hopefully we won’t have to wait just as long for album number three, as this group continues to deliver some quality death metal. Procul His is available from Sepulchral Voice Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg