Seas of Wake’s Virology: Population Control
New Jersey has an overpopulation problem when it comes to heavy local acts. The ratio of heavy bands to soft bands in the state is similar to the ratio of guys to girls at a lame frat house party. While you’re soaking in that analogy, I’m going to suggest that we take a page from the frat house book and start charging every kid with an Asking Alexandria t-shirt and a few weeks of guitar lessons under his belt a hefty fee if he’s going to form a band with his friend, a drummer who’s never taken any lessons but spends all day at school practicing double-bass on the floor so he’s, like, pretty fast now. But in the midst of such swarms of lame heavy bands, Newton progressive metal outfit Seas of Wake’s latest release Virology almost makes it worth the shotgun spread of terrible, sexist metal-core bands New Jersey had to endure before someone found the mark.
Phrases like “a breath of fresh air” and “an innovative take on an old genre” have been thrown around and beaten to death by reviews of albums that were neither fresh nor innovative, so I’m just going to be forthcoming: Seas of Wake did not re-invent the progressive metal genre. However, they did take the time to study, practice, and perfect it so that you could find an honest metal album for once inside all of that pretty packaging. Hailing influences such as Protest the Hero and Slipknot, Virology is equal parts Mudvayne and Oh, Sleeper. Now, I know what you’re thinking, and no, Seas of Wake does not sound like the aberrational lovechild of two sounds never meant to mate (I’m talking to you, Linkin Park). Unlike the band that stole four years of my adolescence which I’ll never get back, Seas of Wake doesn’t force anything. They took the tone of commercial metal and the aggression of a progressive rock sound influenced by death metal and got them in the same room. They allowed them to get to know each other naturally, watched them fall in love, and eventually reaped the benefits of their consummated marriage in a nicely constructed concept album. Basically, Virology just sounds real. It’s the product of a band that spends more time nurturing their love for music than rehearsing their synchronized head-banging or fixing their hair, though they are not opposed to a little face-paint.
Everything on this album is warranted. When drummer Ricky Montgomery decides to really lay into the cymbals on a breakdown, it’s because the song had it coming, not because he wants to see a few twelve-year-olds foaming at the mouth over their own spin kicks in the pit. When vocalist Shaun Mason feels like belting out a catchy chorus, it’s because the song deserved it, not because A Day to Remember did it first. And when bassist Kyle Sliker or guitarists Mike Mocerino and Bill Hermann think it’s time to shred on their respective axes, they’ve earned the right, because they didn’t write sweeping lines too fast for their fingers to handle and then ask producer Kevin Carafa of Backroom Studios to fix the flubs in post-production. They rehearsed until they could actually play what they wrote. Sadly, that is a novel thought these days: a New Jersey metal band that actually practices the songs it brings on-stage before it brings them on-stage.
When it comes to lyrics, Seas of Wake gets bonus points from me right off the bat simply for not writing breakdown after breakdown about the various ways they’re going to beat up haters and critics. Come on, “bro-core.” Let’s leave that to the rappers. As a concept album, Virology does something that most independently released albums don’t dare to do: it tells a story. So when Mason screams, “I’ll erase them, blood-drenched and paralyzed,” to begin “Lust and Mind,” the first full song on the nine track album, it’s not to trash talk about people he’s never actually going to kill. It’s because the album, according to the liner notes, is about “the psychological ascent and plummet of a widower who seeks to avenge the death of his love by means of pandemic disease.”
For the most part, the earlier songs on the album live inside that premise, a look inside the mind of a man preparing to release a virus that will destroy mankind, and ultimately himself with it. The album begins with “People Change,” a creepy introduction featuring sounds from inside this delusional scientist’s lab, leading into the aggressive “Lust and Mind.” The third track, “Dream Dweller,” is probably the most complete song on the album, featuring a great blend of anger and emotion from both the guitars and vocals. The album slows down a bit on the following song. “‘No Candidate for Love’ is the ballad of the record,” Mason tells me. “And it’s the point in the story where he’s on his way to bury her, while longing for her.” I’m a sucker for the contemplative instrumental track, a rare find these days as bands begin to favor the quantity of a few short EPs over the fleshed out quality of a full-length, so “Double Helix” really stuck out for me. “The Continuance (The End Of)” is sure to be another favorite, as it features this man actually following through with releasing the virus in a deliciously China cymbal-heavy breakdown. I’m not positive about what the rule for spoilers is when it comes to concept albums, but I’m pretty sure we all saw that one coming, anyway. I will at least leave the events of the final track a mystery, save for to say that these guys know how to close an album.
I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Seas of Wake at their album release show on November 5th, and let me say that I know from experience how hard an album release is to pull off. You spend months ignoring show offers so that you can write and record, but when it comes time to perform the album in its entirety in front of a live audience, you’re almost a year out of playing shows and you’ve forgotten how that part of the gig goes. I’ve seen too many bands, my own included, put on a rusty performance of songs their fans haven’t yet had a chance to learn, resulting in an unenthused crowd. When Virology was released, this was not the case, and Seas of Wake showed the type of discipline that is going to take them far in this business. Their set was tight, energetic, and well-rehearsed. And it was real. It’s just an example of the type of band they are. The music always comes first.
I can’t guarantee that you will like Virology. This brand of progressive metal is not for everyone, and it’s a sad day if we all end up listening to the same music, anyway. But you’ll sure as hell respect it, and I can only hope that Seas of Wake’s discipline is an infectious virus that will contaminate every one of the three new substance-less chug-core bands that pop up whenever another heavy local act breaks up. Population control. “Release the virus,” boys.