“But whereas the majority of nautical music focuses on the rape, pillage and rum-drinking aspect of buccaneering etiquette, Melodica Deathship turn the entire concept on its head in the most subversive way possible.” – Dave Donnelly reviews Melodica Deathship‘s The Sunken Path.
There aren’t many Irish acts who can claim to be utterly unique – come to think of it, there aren’t many pirate-themed acts who could make the same boast – yet Cork duo Melodica Deathship achieved just that with their singular 2010 album, Doom Your Cities, Doom Your Towns. The world and its ma has had a go at pirate-themed music at this stage – shanties have been passed around the Irish folk tradition for well over a century and have been most obviously cropped up in the music of the Pogues and soundalike progeny like Flogging Molly, while an entire subgenre of heavy metal has emerged to celebrate the buccaneering spirit. But whereas the majority of nautical music focuses on the rape, pillage and rum-drinking aspect of buccaneering etiquette, Melodica Deathship turn the entire concept on its head in the most subversive way possible.
That Melodica Deathship can so vividly evoke the darkness and isolation inherent in the pirate’s life would be impressive enough, were it not for the fact they do it with hardly a traditional acoustic instrument in sight. The closest they get is frontman Exile Eye’s talismanic melodica (their name is almost stupidly literal) which picks out the mournful, psychedelia-swamped melodies that give their music such an eerie and hazily entrancing quality, like heaving doom metal riffs transposed onto what would otherwise appear the most comical of children’s instruments. Bubbling below and lurching above the surface throughout is producer Deep Burial, whose compositions flit variously between mind-bending heavy dub and ambient hip hop.
‘Standing on a Hill’ kicks the five-track Sunken Path EP off on an unexpectedly uptempo note, and what briefly seems like a total volte-face from Doom Your Cities until the powerful female vocals begin to emit what amounts to a semi-prophetic warning of society’s imminent breakdown from the perspective of one who’s experienced it all at sea: “I have seen the starless, storms drift through the air / Northern winds that touched my face and ripped right through my hair / My toes have touched the stones, I know the speech of seagulls screaming / While children learn the ancient poems tucked warm for the evening / Outside their city’s bitter cold, its streets devoid of thrills / And I can hear the howling wind, standing on the hill.”
Each of the four tracks that follow flows seamlessly from the last, and ‘Sea Beyond the Sea’ takes the tempo down a notch with soothing flute and melodica melodies meshing surprisingly well with the programmed beats and 8-bit keyboard loops. Centrepiece ‘All Horizons’ sees Exile Eye make his belated vocal debut on the album. His taut and precise rapping style and inimitable accent betray both his San Jose upbringing and his adult adoption to the People’s Republic as he trades lines with dissonant thrash chords: “We are six weeks west / With sickness upon us, and all this unrest / And Tonight I lie dreaming with the sea as my bed / Lost in all horizon and my feet in my head.”
‘Thirteen’ is the most straightforward track on the album, meshing a thumping bass line with serrated industrial samples as Exile Eye delivers a propulsive and precise rap that unfolds into a counting sequence reminiscent of ‘The Irish Rover’ or, at a push, a perverse backward take on the ’12 Days of Christmas.’ Closer ‘Asenath’ is the track most consistent with the style laid down on Doom Your Cities, with the melodica again to the fore accompanied by skitty, jazzy beats and bringing the short EP to an end on a familiar yet trippy buzz.
The production value throughout The Sunken Path is generally excellent and an undoubted improvement on the DIY style of Doom Your Cities. Exile Eye’s lyrics are occasionally buried and rendered unintelligible in the mix, and the fact he only raps on three of the EP’s five tracks is a little disconcerting, but all in all The Sunken Path is a hugely creative and deeply engaging work and augurs well for the follow-up (whenever it may come).