If you’ve ever indulged in psychedelic drugs, then you’re going to recognize a familiar haze when you jump into the first track in The Magnetic South’s new album Sea Level, titled “Porcelain Branches.” Out of an unforgiving, tension-yielding silence that is broken up by a haunting keyboard, a bassline creeps into the mix and sinks its long and sharp teeth into our psyche, only to grow all the more visceral as we descend deeper and deeper into the trenches of the song. Atonal white noise gives way to an elegant piano part as we reach the twilight of the track and become trapped in the slothful sway of “Sunrise and Gravity,” a progressive metal song stuck inside the body of an industrial rock opus. We’re assaulted by the commanding beats of “Zombie Death Grip,” deceptively lured into a false sense of security by the plaintive resonance of the keys in “The Carnival,” branded by the hot iron of an angelic vocal in “My Sun,” and finally finished off by the brutality of the Seattle scene throwback “Faceless.” By the time the title track rolls into focus, we’re battered, bruised and beholden to whatever The Magnetic South wants to do with us, and while their virgin album together is a very consuming listen, it’s a smart rock record that employs lofty ideals only where it needs them the most.
There’s a lot of metallic intensity in “Faceless,” “Zombie Death Grip” and the title track, but I don’t think that these three songs encompass the full scope of this band’s capabilities in the studio. I get the idea that they wanted to take a stripped-down approach to the master mix, which gives the album its grainy industrial finish, but even though the production value isn’t nearly as sterling as the songs themselves, I’m not sure that the music would be as evocative in nature were it not presented to us through the black whitelens that it is here. “Porcelain Branches” and “Sunrise and Gravity” follow a pretty typical post-rock blueprint, but it’s because of the violent churn that the mix creates that they’re able to grab – and keep – our attention for as long as they do. All the right ingredients are present in this LP to make it a classic, and nine out of ten times, they’re incorporated brilliantly and with noteworthy precision.
From where I sit, this band, and their first album, were made for the stage, and as a result I think that they would likely be judged best in a live capacity. The title track, “My Sun,” “Faceless,” even a slower song like “The Carnival;” they’ve all got the chops to be extended into fiery psychedelic jams that could get an entire concert hall swinging in startling synchronization, and though the studio environment can limit the cratering effect of music like this, The Magnetic South did a pretty terrific job in preserving all of their natural tonality in these seven stylish tracks. They’ve got plenty of ground left to cover as a group, but this debut effort is a must-listen for underground hard rock buffs just the same.