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Shades Of Deep Water : Waterways

A riff roller-coaster of an album from 2013, Shades Of Deep Water's 'Waterways' is fun Doom, if ever there has been such a thing.

After the overtly happy 'Underworld' demo, J.H. took some time off which proved beneficial as the following 'Constant Pressure' 7 EP brought back the darker tones of the past. Gone were the energetic riffs for the sake of simple riff indulgence, instead it displayed much slower and bleaker sound than before with an appropriate non-artwork made of grayish blackness. This EP was a wonderful release and the clean vocal experimentation worked amazingly well.

A year later, Shades Of Deep Water released 'Waterways', their first full length, in a rather humble package considering the milestone. It was released independently both digitally as well as on tape and most of the songs are re-recordings of old demo tracks. The artwork is also quite different from the bleak landscapes we are accustomed to: the tape is presented with a nice detailed image of the Carta Marina - a map of Nordic countries and seas from 1539. The simple thick paper inlay features the usual basic information, as well as the full name of the man behind the band - Juho Huuskola - no longer using just initials and finally willing to have some online presence.

The album starts with a single song from each of the three demos, in chronological order, and opens with 'Lifeless Surroundings' the first song I ever heard from the band, which sounds very heavy and dark and has great production revealing the potential of the first already wonderful demo. All instruments sound raw and authentic as if you are there in the murky basement during the recording. It is rather shorter than the original and purely instrumental but, curiously, it does not feel like the vocals are missing even though I am quite accustomed to hearing it with vocals.

The rest of the re-recorded songs are also vastly improved - heavier, with better production, more accentuated main melody riffs and the happy vibes subdued even when they remain energetic, following the credo of this album - short and to the point but carefully cloaked under a thin veil of darkness. Best of these, coming towards the end of 'Waterways' and completing the representation of all four previous releases, 'Constant Pressure' from the 7 EP is certainly the highlight of this release - the slowest and darkest track by far. The clean vocals are quite mournful without sounding out of place; they fit the song perfectly and prove to be a pretty successful experimentation so it is quite disappointing they are not to be explored sufficiently in the future.

Before getting to that, 'Coast to Coast' is the first new track and it is an unlikely cover of an instrumental Scorpions song I was unfamiliar with. It is easily understandable why he chose it - it fits perfectly within Shades Of Deep Water's style, playing just the kind of riffs J.H. is so fond of. It is essentially a slowed down, heavier version of the original and sounds like a pure Shades Of Deep Water track to the point where I wouldn't know it was not written by him unless I had read it.

'Waters of North' and 'Stay Shadows' are the only original new tracks, though stylistically they are still pretty close to the rest. The latter is a perfect closure to the album and features unique fragile clean vocals very simple but slow, solitary and almost a bit menacing.

Even though most of the songs are from different albums they are thematically and sound-wise similar and fit together into a coherent whole perfectly, so 'Waterways' is far from a compilation album. J.H. manages to build his thematic world around the great northern seas just as intended - it sounds vast, dark, unknown, tempestuous and even wild at times. He manages to take you on a journey, and it feels as if you are lost, stranded and the waves play with you, throwing you into different directions just as the riffs do. At times unsettling, hostile, tumultuous, it sounds like a crushing storm.

The album stands solely on the strength of the concise songwriting and the riffs that are abundant and diverse yet always simple with nothing excessive - thick and nice-sounding guitars, simple drums and carefully placed clean guitars that add dreariness among the songs. Even though all the riffs are pretty simple, J.H. always knows when to add a change so that it does not get boring. No riff overstays its welcome and even though repetition is ample you can never feel it in a negative sense.

Of course this is not even close to Funeral Doom and if it weren't for the coarse grunts I'd say this could be slow Epic Doom, or at least it feels as if the aesthetics of Heavy Metal are put at the forefront - good music and strong compositions above all. Therefore it could also please people that do not like Doom Metal in particular or think Doom is too challenging or uncompromising, expecting too much effort from the listener. 'Waterways' eschews all this, does not force you to eat your vegetables first and gets straight to the main course, serving riffs in plenty.

Your opinion on this album will largely depend on how you approach it - it is full of powerful riffs which take precedence over melancholy and atmosphere. It seems as the technical abilities come to the forefront and as a result we have an album full of great doomy riffs that fails to really grab you emotionally. It almost becomes a victim of its always changing harmonies. The riffs are great and melodic and the production amazing so it is always a pleasant listen, unless you want to be suffocated by the music. Do not expect drawn out riffs here, everything is short and to the point, like an exercise in excellence.

All in all it is dark, doomy and negative, but not particularly mournful, desolate or sad and it does not cross the border to become genuinely emotional or affecting. It has atmosphere but not so strong as to engulf you in it or leave you emotionally devastated. The aquatic theme is not depressive enough for my liking but for all that want a nice tasty chunk of tumultuous riff based Doom that does not get boring, this would be the perfect storm for you - waves of diverse riffs drown and overwhelm you just before they switch to almost serene melody passages. This makes it all dramatic like a finely written play with strong ups and downs but never reaching the heart.

Despite my criticism, 'Waterways' is a strong album filled with ideas. It is always interesting as new melodies or twists of previous ones manage to surprise and amaze. But after all what good is that if it does not take you places or spark any emotions? This is fun Doom if ever there was such a thing. And the fact that a Scorpions song fits so well here should tell you enough.

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Reviewer's rating: 6.5/10


Tracklist :
1. Lifeless Surroundings
2. The Breathless Sea
3. Underworld II
4. Coast to Coast
5. Waters Of North
6. Constant Pressure
7. Stay Shadows

Duration : Approx. 40 minutes

Visit the Shades Of Deep Water bandpage.

Reviewed on 2020-01-21 by Klamerin Malamov
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