Calm Black Water: psych-stoner doom and urban saxophone blues in the service of Lovecraftian horror

REZN, Calm Black Water, The Netherlands, Off The Record Label, OTRL025 limited edition CD / LP (2019)

If this Chicago band’s discography is to be believed, “Calm Black Water” is only REZN’s second album. Already this quartet plays like seasoned veterans of the psych-stoner doom metal scene. Appropriately for the water monster theme, the music has (at times) a washed-out seasick feel along with the powerful bottom-heavy doom metal style. Psychedelic effects suggestive of deep-sea immersion with bubbles rising up alongside the air tubes, moments of black-water silence, berserk synth effects and Phil Cangelosi’s treated languid vocals on intro track “Iceberg” set the scene nicely for the horror movie about to unfold. And unfold it does in the two-part story that starts with the meandering, mostly instrumental “Mirrored Mirage”, unusual perhaps by the standards of most psych-stoner doom in featuring saxophone as the dominant foghorn instrument while pushing Cangelosi’s voice back into the flotsam and jetsam of the music’s currents. The pounding drums remind listeners of the possible looming danger in these dark waters. The narrative climaxes in “Quantum Being” when the monster is revealed … and tuns out to be a man-made creation, as much a logical extension of the human mind as it is in body form, in the fashion of Godzilla, not that the monster is anything like the overgrown Japanese iguana beastie.

Had the recording stopped after these three tracks, it would still be a very good and interesting experiment in combining a moody atmospheric mini-soundtrack narrative with driving psych doom metal, bluesy instrumental music and spaced-out psychedelic effects. However the band continues with three more tracks of slow-burning raw doom abrasion, dreamy trance meditation and more sax-driven urban blues loneliness and pitch-black deep-sea cavern ambience. While this second half of the album doesn’t bring in anything that hasn’t already been encountered in the two-part epic that forms the core of the album, and parts of it meander for longer than they probably should do, this latter half does demonstrate the band’s confidence in handling all the very different elements from genres that you wouldn’t have thought compatible with the least likely subject matter for a psychedelic doom metal album. The highlight of this second half of the recording is the track “Sunken” where slow mellow melodic doom metal culminates in an unexpected burst of noisy crackle.

While perhaps the band’s full power and fury remain restrained to allow the ambient and space psychedelia effects and the quieter brooding aspect of REZN’s style to come to the fore, this album is a fully realised, self-contained universe in which sound, riffing, melody and a range of effects and textures combine to tell a Lovecraftian tale of suspense and horror. The album is professionally crafted without losing the band’s raw sound and the looseness of the instrumental passages. I’d have liked to hear more doom metal aggression and a stronger vocal performance but these are just my personal preferences. “Calm Black Water” really is a complete world in itself, needing nothing extra, and REZN should be proud of this effort. These guys certainly are a band to look out for in the future.

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