The Dead Sea

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Inspired by sources as varied as Goblin's scores for Dario Argento's gory classics to Wolf Eyes' unearthly electronic noise, Xela's The Dead Sea is a concept album about a sea voyage overtaken by zombies. Stories like this don't usually end well, and neither does this one; doom is telegraphed with every track, from "The Gate" -- which begins the album with droning strings that give off vibrations of dread like heat shimmer -- to the chilling finale, "Briefly Seen." Often, the album feels like a field recording of rusty chains, ill winds, and lost souls. Though The Dead Sea is far darker than Tangled Wool or For Frosty Mornings and Summer Nights, it shares Xela's attention to mood and sonic detail, teeming with writhing textures and percussion and haunting melodies that occasionally bob to the surface. Decaying sea shanties like "Creeping Flesh" and "A Floating Procession" would almost be jaunty, were it not for the unsettlingly deep basslines that shadow them. Even the prettiest tracks, such as the acoustic guitar-based "Linseed" and "Drunk on Salt Water," boast enough creepy, half-heard moments that they don't offer respite from the itchy, insectoid noise of "Wet Bones" and "Sinking Cadavers"' icy electronics, both of which evoke the zombies' slow but inevitable approach. It all culminates on the outstanding "Humid at Dusk," an eerie folk-noise battle between maritime acoustics and undead electronics. Ultimately, The Dead Sea is more spooky than terrifying; after all the buildup, some more intense scares would've been satisfying. Still, the album does a remarkably good job of conjuring up extremely vivid, ghastly images (like the one on its brilliant album artwork) and making you look around every once in a while to make sure everything is all right. Bleak, beautiful, and fascinating, this is Xela's most ambitious and accomplished work yet.

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