Sea of Bones/The Oracle/Earth Mover/Gloom at Sidebar

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I haven’t seen their name mentioned quite as often as some of the other sludge/doom bands out there, but Connecticut’s Sea of Bones deserves to be just as well-known. They’ve been around for almost a decade and have independently released two full lengths, the newest of which is The Earth Wants Us Dead from 2013. This album saw the group becoming even more ambitious and writing longer songs that had even more twists and turns, making them a clear contender in a fairly crowded space. For the past few months Sea of Bones has been out on tour, and they made a stop in Baltimore on their way back to Connecticut. This was one show I knew I couldn’t miss, and I wasn’t disappointed by the night of heavy music that I experienced at Sidebar.

D.C. band Gloom started the night off, but due to a combination of insane traffic due to a Ravens pre-season game and Otakon’s pre-registration, I was only able to catch their last two songs. I had seen the group for the first time earlier in the year, and they impressed me with a tight, intense performance that had elements of death metal, sludge, and black metal with some additional elements seamlessly integrated in. The instrumental work is able to hit the intensity that one would expect from death metal or black metal but the band switches things up quite a bit, sometimes going for sludge grooves while other times heading towards some faster technical sections that showcase a bit of a progressive slant. While all of this is happening vocalist Bill Calomoris screams his lungs out, moving between low growls and higher shrieks with ease. It’s the type of material that has a lot of familiar elements on the surface, but Gloom’s been able to throw them together in an appealing manner that doesn’t feel overly predictable and that’s a very good thing. I don’t want to judge too in-depth since I wasn’t able to watch their entire performance, but based on the two songs I did see they once again delivered a heavy hitting performance that’s worth seeing. I hope that now that they have an EP out the group will continue to gain fans, as I’d like to see them get some additional recognition.

North Carolina’s Earth Mover was up next, and they offered something different from the rest of the lineup. Although they still had some heavier moments, the overall sound was reminiscent of 90’s shoegaze and space rock with a little bit of post hardcore influence to the vocals. If you’re like me, that particular mish-mash of genres is one that’s instantly appealing, and as a result as soon as the first guitar melody washed over me I was hooked. Earth Mover’s sound is familiar, and while they don’t quite go for the super loud shoegaze sound like Nothing their set still did have some higher volume moments that pulled you out of a trance like state for a brief moment. The vocals fall somewhere between the echo heavy, washed out sound that is typical for this genre and intense screaming (which is where I got the slight post hardcore vibe from), and while they sometimes got swept away by the instrumental work I still felt as though they fit with the overall sound the band was going for. Shoegaze and dream pop combined with a heavier base seems to be a style that’s been coming back in a big way recently, and while Earth Mover is fairly new they already have some great hooks to their songs that drew me into their set and made it feel like it ended far too quickly. They do have room to continue to carve out their own niche, but I’d love to see them come back through and will be watching to see what direction they head in down the road.

The Oracle took over shortly after Earth Mover finished, and the crowd had gotten a bit larger as they took the stage. This was the third time I’d seen the D.C. band, and it was definitely my favorite. I was a little too intoxicated during my first encounter with them to truly appreciate the nuances behind the sheer wall of sound their performance provides, and the last time I saw them in Hyattsville there were some issues with the mics cutting out. In between these performances I’ve given their demo material quite a few spins though, as the way that they are able to combine old-school doom grooves with all-out blasting black metal and crust is intense and gives them a unique sound. This time around the mix at the venue was able to do justice to their performance, as both James Haun and Ron McGinnis were easy to hear above the instrumental work. Haun’s higher shrieks and screams sometimes have a tendency to get lost in the wall of sound, and that was the biggest difference this time around as his vocals were able to tower over the instrumental work in the same way they do on the band’s recording. It made a difference, as the set was that much more intense and the combination of the downright intimidating vocal work and riff after riff that caught your attention made a real impact. I’ve always liked The Oracle and what they had to offer, but I think this was the set where it reached a peak level and convinced me that they can deliver one incredible performance after the next.

I had been given advance notice Sea of Bones plays extremely loud, even for a genre that already has groups often playing at full volume. Although I don’t usually tend to wear earplugs at shows, acts like Sunn O))) and Swans have warranted them in the past, and when I saw the two gigantic stacks of amps on-stage I knew it was a good idea to have them. Sidebar’s a smaller venue and can fit about 90-100 people, so the sound tends to come right at you rather than spreading throughout the room. But this worked to Sea of Bones’ advantage, as it sounded about as loud as a regular show without earplugs to me and every single note seemed to fill the air and pull you in. All three members contribute vocals throughout the material, and they all have fairly different vocal ranges that give specific sections a very different feel from one another. The ranges are all towards the harsher end of the spectrum though, which matches up with the bottom heavy instrumental work. I’m not sure how many songs the band played total, but it was only a few as they picked from some of their lengthier pieces that were capable of putting the audience into a daze with extremely slow build-ups and then bring them back to life with much faster, heavy hitting sections. There were multiple times throughout the set where I felt like I was falling into a trance as the riffs surrounded me, and that’s something that not every band in this genre is able to do to me. It’s not unusual for bands to want to play as loud as possible, but in Sea of Bones’ case it actually does enhance the experience and has you hanging on to every note as you’re pummeled into submission by the time the music reaches its climax. If you haven’t given The Earth Wants Us Dead a listen yet and like this type of doom/sludge that can be atmospheric and crushing at the same time, do yourself a favor and check it out and then see if you can catch it in person as the live set is a powerful experience.





Sea of Bones-
The Oracle-
Earth Mover-

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