Mike McLatchey 4-Mar-2002 Maudlin of the Well - Bath (Dark Symphonies dark 12, 2001, CD)
Maudlin of the Well - Leaving Your Body Map (Dark Symphonies dark 13, 2001, CD)

It is rare when a paradigm-altering musical ensemble rears its head, a band that claims to hail from one school, yet has grown so far past the genre's boundaries that any label applied becomes totally meaningless. Enter Maudlin of the Well, an "astral metal" ensemble led by multi-instrumentalist Toby Driver, including three vocalists (two male and one female), multiple guitars, bass, drums, keyboards and various horns and winds. The two CDs here are the band's second and third albums released simultaneously and linked by similar artwork.

On Bath, the band begins with an acoustic guitar piece that gradually builds into a crescendo of guitars. "They Aren't All Beautiful" kicks in with its pummeling guitars and growling vocals. What begins as an almost typical death metal riff begins evolving into a rhythmically changing set of themes that builds into great climaxes. "Heaven and Weak" is where the band's genius comes out full force, with a theme that starts almost like a laid-back, shoe-gazer melody and grows into a symphony of guitars, building in intensity to a full-throttle speed metal riff with absolutely fantastic lyrical imagery. A gorgeous acoustic interlude acts as a well-placed dynamic interlude to introduce the dark, Stygian "The Ferryman," a doom-metal piece with growling Latin vocals that evolves into a caterwauling, dissonant nightmare of overwhelming, polyphonic layering. "Marid's Gift of Art" and "Girl With a Watering Can" both explore plaintive moments, the former almost a ballad, the second a combination of gothic motifs and almost new wave nostalgia with a symphonic climax and classic melodic guitar solo. The lengthy "Birth Pains of Astral Projection" is just a mishmash of everything, acoustic guitar counterpoint, lounge jazz, whimsical pop, eastern modals, an almost "Jacobs Ladder"-like progression, and death metal, fusing these elements in completely unique ways. A warmly playful acoustic guitar, piano and water splash interlude provides a welcome release before finishing with a spacious, melancholy ballad.

Leaving Your Body Map continues Bath's metallic psychedelia, although the results are even more opaque and confounding than its companion release, a blend of styles so diverse that one will be grinning in pleasure at one element while shaking one's head at the next. While Bath opens almost delicately, Body Map's chamber-like prelude gives way almost instantly to a gothic/doom metal blend, almost like Opeth meets the Cocteau Twins. "Gleam in Ranks" almost has a Nirvana-like grunge to feel as it reaches a pummeling conclusion. The epic "Bizarre Flowers/A Violent Mist" is the last piece before a very Windham Hill-like (think Ackerman or DeGrassi) interlude, and it shows a distinct move towards a developing prog-metal structure, changing timing and pace through a number of death metal and clean vocal moments. "Garden Song" is similarly elaborate, stringing a number of very diverse themes together, including parts for all the vocalists. "Sleep is a Curse" is a beautiful ballad, with some gorgeous string orchestration. "Riseth He, The Numberless" spans two tracks on the CD and is an inventive, epic metal track with a grand finale. The last interlude is another gorgeous chamber-like piece in the vein of Godspeed You Black Emperor! "Monstrously Low Tide" is the finale for the entire, linked project, a piece that starts out with a breezy pop verse and develops into some abstract guitar work.

The above will only approximate what an incredibly wide variety of influences Maudlin of the Well take from to distill what is a music of consummate originality. These are classics in the making.

Links for further information