Losing someone you love or care about is a moment that every human being endures at some time of their life; it is often described as a period of grief that takes enough time to overcome and it is represented in many ways depending on the people it affects. For Australian post-metal band We Lost The Sea, tragedy struck hard when their singer and friend, Chris Torpy, took his own life in early 2013. The band decided to move on and carry the legacy of their fallen brother; reinventing themselves with their 2015 release Departure Songs, creating a powerful and emotional album dedicated to real people whose lives ended in tragic events, telling the story of 4 events without a single word to be spoken. This is a tribute to human achievements, failures and losses; with glimpses of hope to be found on its devastating, yet beautiful sound.
Album opener “A Gallant Gentleman” starts slowly with its guitar chords, followed by a calm piano. It pays homage to Lawrence Oates, a captain and member of the Robert Falcon Scott South Pole Expedition, which tried to be the first humans in history to reach that point of the world. They found out that another team had achieved this before, leaving them no choice but to return to their base in this bleak land. The sound feels cold, but the guitars start to get louder and heavier followed by a vocal choir, representing the journey of these men to return; even when facing death or severe injuries. Captain Lawrence Oates, the most afflicted men of the crew (he developed gangrene due to frostbite), decided to go against the words of his fellow members and left the resting tent. As his life disappears in the middle of the snow, so is the intensity of the song, until you can only hear the vocal choir.
“Bogatyri” is an Ukranian folklore that tells the story of three valiant knights, and it’s the perfect word to describe the next track. Opening with a persistent bassline and eastern influenced guitars, the knights on this story are Valeri Bezpalov, Alexie Ananenko and Boris Baranov, known as the “suicide squad” who volunteered to sacrifice their life to open the sluice gates of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant to release the radiated water found on the bubbler pools that could lead to another explosion if mixed with materials that were found on that part of the plant, causing another disaster. With only diving suits and a lamp, they descended into the gates. This song starts to build up its impending doom, leaving room for the guitars and drums to crescent in their sound as the only source of light they had was lost in the process. It crushes you with a darkened, almost claustrophobic sound, only to end with fading guitars that represent their life which were reduced to mere days.
This is where things start to get more personal. You might wonder what is the sound clip found on the first minutes of “The Last Dive of David Shaw”, and the answer is: A video available on YouTube which has the same name of the song, and it’s exactly what it says. These are the last moments of Australian diver David John Shaw, trying to rescue the body of fellow diver Deon Dreyer, who attempted to break the diving record of almost 250 meters (feat which Shaw accomplished). As the sound clip ends, and the guitars start to once again kick in, followed by drums and then cellos, you descend with David as the song starts to get colder and darker. Then a few moments of tranquility are found in this song (which I think they match the moment in which Shaw finds the body and starts the rescue), only to be assaulted with a breathtaking blast of sound that builds and builds for minutes representing the last minutes of this diver who attempted to rescue a fellow comrade that tried to do the same thing that he did, failing in the process ten years ago. After the blast ends, and the guitars start to go back to their first minutes (with a beautiful piano piece on the background) you realize what happened. He accomplished his task by giving his own life (If you watch the video, he got stuck while trying to pull the body out of a cave). A few days later, both bodies were found on the surface.
Last story found on this record might be the most known; one of the worst tragedies of the American space program: the Challenger disaster, which happened in 1986, took the life of 7 people (6 astronauts and Christa McAuliffe, a teacher) as the space shuttle disintegrated into air, leaving all of its watchers in a shock of grief and despair. Starting with a drone ambience and a voice clip of William S. Burroughs “on Dreams”, the innocent guitar that starts at the beginning of the song is drifted away by another one, which gets more and more aggressive. The bass and drums kick in and the momentum starts to get in motion, slowing down for a few minutes to showcase a beautiful, yet melancholic solo. A synth melody followed by a tense and distorting riff leaves place for a clip of the Challenger sequence, the shuttle is about to be launched into space, leaving you with the most chaotic moment of the album; all the band is leaving their energy in this part and you’re left with no choice but to be immersed in this wall of sound. “They were here and now they’re gone…” the band disappears and you’re left with the tragic outcome, in which you can hear and feel the crowd reactions.
To close off, the last track of the album is a Swan Song; and after 4 devastating tracks you start to see glimpses of light in this beautiful track. This is the final eulogy to these men, and to everyone who gave their life for different reasons. You hear the guitars, the bass, keys, cymbals and drums but there is no tragedy to be found here, only beautiful melodies and a powerful crescendo. You’ve followed this journey for almost 58 minutes to fall back into reality and realize that this is humanity at its purest and honest time. As Ronald Reagan addresses the nation after the Challenger disaster, you’re left with this message: “we will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”
I will surely not forget this album, We Lost The Sea, nor the people that you’ve honored with this release. You’ve managed to create an experience that only one other record managed to move me in such ways, and that is GY!BE’s debut, F♯A♯∞. This is a powerful work of art that shows us how frail life is, but that in the darkest moments of our existence; there is still hope, and light to be found in the way.
Rest in Peace, Chris Torpy.
1. A Gallant Gentleman – 06:04
2. Bogatyri – 11:41
3. The Last Dive of David Shaw – 16:57
4. Challenger part 1 – Flight – 23:47
5. Challenger part 2 – A Swan Song – 08:48
Total running time: 67:16
Release date: 2015/07/23
Label: Translation Loss, Bird’s Robe Records, Art As Catharsis
File type listened to: MP3
Bit rate: 320 kbps VBR
Sampling frequency: 44,100 Hz, 2 channels