Massachusetts quartet Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean (who, I assume, take their name from the 2007 song “Fucking Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean” by Louisiana sludge legends, Thou) have made a bit of a name for themselves on the sludge scene, despite having only one (short) LP to their name, 2017’s Decay and Other Hopes Against Progress. Over the intervening years, Chained has, however, released three very good EPs (influenced heavily by Thou’s sound)—including 2019’s Tell Me What You See Vanishing and I Will Tell You Who You Are, which we actually managed to cover—and the focus on EPs explains the very few references to Chained on these pages. As new LP Obsession Destruction drops, perhaps that is about to change.
I’m currently reading the Broken Earth trilogy and, I won’t lie, when my eyes first feasted on Obsession Destruction’s cover—unmistakably the work of the late, great Mariusz Lewandowski—the first thing I thought of was (spoilers!) the stone eater trapped inside an obelisk, itself buried underwater. In fact, that feeling of claustrophobia pervades Obsession Destruction. Huge, heavily distorted riffs and bass lines drowning in reverb threaten to smother you, even as the snarling howls of Chained’s anonymous (like his brethren) vocalist launch their unrelenting assault. The whole is almost suffocating in its intensity and across the album’s sprawling, hour-plus run, it feels like Chained has its collective foot on your throat, crushing the life out of you. Just as you are on the verge of blacking out, the boot lifts just enough to allow precious oxygen to flood back in. In those euphoric moments, as Chained eases back, they weave into their sound stripped-back, haunting refrains that loop and repeat, building up their own very different intensity, with moments of unexpected melody in a sea of despairing horror (“The Altar” and standout track “The Gates Have Closed and They Will Never Open”).
Still drawing heavily on the crushing sounds of Thou and Neurosis (though perhaps less than on the early EPs), coupled with the beautiful and anguished doom of Amenra, Chained hold the listener in their collective palm on Obsession Destruction. Constant shifts in tempo give the album an ever-changing liquid feel, which Chained manipulate with consummate skill. Every time a passage threatens to overwhelm you, the band changes things up. The eerily haunting, descending lead that drops 4:16 into “The Gates Have Closed and They Will Never Open” or the jaunty, stomping drum line that kicks off album closer “In the Feral Grace of Night, May the Last Breath Never Come” and follows hard on the heels of the funereal, post-hardcore bludgeoning of “Every Day a Weeping Curse”, being perfect examples of this.
For the most part, Obsession Destruction is long-form, soul-destroying bleakness, which sees Chained straddle the sludge-doom fence and gradually suck all the light and joy from the room. However, the band is not above just kicking your head in the old-fashioned way, as it does on the album’s shortest, most immediate cut, the three-minute “Hole in my Head”. While unmistakably Chained, the record has a different quality from their earlier work, standing slightly apart from even the most recent EP, I Tried Catching You but You Fell Through Me. Obsession Destruction has the feel of a painstakingly constructed album, where everything is in its place. It is rich and textured, with a deep and powerful seam of yearning melody, and feels more expansive—almost cinematic—than anything that has come before. Previously, Chained channeled its intensity through the stripped-back simplicity of its sound (go listen to the stunning cover of Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Possess Your Heart”, for example). Without abandoning what makes Chained immediately identifiable, the band has added grandeur and scale to its sound that I associate with Amenra or even Slow’s excellent VI – Dantalion.
The mastering by Cult of Luna’s Magnus Lindberg plays a big part in this. The depth of sound, coupled with rough-hewn edges to both the guitar tone and vocals, is laced with just the right amount of feedback and reverb to generate an all-consuming sound. The songwriting is the real star here, however. Even as a fan of the genre, for a sludge album, never mind one exceeding an hour in length, to not only hold my attention, but also engage me emotionally, in the way Obsession Destruction did is something special. I predict it will become one of the reference points for the genre and propel Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean toward some much-deserved recognition.
My only complaint is that when I tried to pre-order the vinyl on Bandcamp, shipping to the UK was quoted at $99 … sorry but fuck that.