Dead Neanderthals – The Depths (2017)

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Dead Neanderthals often play with collaborators, but The Depths once again features just two musicians – Otto Kokke on sax and Rene Aquarius on drums, the core of the band – with no one else in sight, and it is lovely. This new album was recorded with either musician at different ends of a 100 meter-long concrete-lined tunnel.

Echoes and reverb forced them to play completely differently from usual. This unique location gives a weight to the tracks that is hard to describe. Accompanying The Depths is a short documentary that gives insight into the recording process and Dead Neanderthals’ experience while playing in this unique setting.

The first track “Surface” is eerie, dark, deep – and incredible. A really unusual atmosphere is created which somehow eats into your soul with the listening, conjuring up images of dark, never-ending tunnels and almost fearful unknowns. Given prior knowledge of the recording, this is exactly how it sounds and the echoes add almost another instrumental sound to this. The initial three beat drums are responded to by continuous sax notes from Otto Kokke whilst the drums build and the sax maintains its stance like some David against a Goliath of sound. An awesome – literally – and inspiring piece.

“Descent” begins with a two-note sax riff, sounding ominously like the opening of the theme from Jaws, which is unnerving from the start. However, calm is restored as the two notes continue and morph into longer, smoother sounds. Then the drums take over the menace and get faster before a pause – and we are off. It sounds like the two instruments are stalking each other. There follows a call and response from the two musicians which at times simply creates echoes and at others creates a narrative which colors the echoes and sounds.

“Glimpse” begins almost tentatively, and again Otto introduces another two-note theme, but this time it is varied and the drums fill the gaps with deep, echoey belts, bangs and extensions. In the second part, the sax speeds up and introduces intricacies which add to Dead Neanderthals’ overall sound wall, creating impressions and musical ideas in waves.

“Decompression” is a lovely, gentle track, with both musicians clearly listening intensely from their distant posts and answering each other’s calls and rhythms with a delicacy unexpected given the pipe-line location. With just two instruments – albeit one of the instruments being a drum kit with all the different sounds it brings – and a confined space with location-particular effects, it might be expected that the variation on sounds would be minimal but it is not.

The unusual recording method on Dead Neanderthals’ The Depth gives every note a clarity, and at times the sax sounds eerily like a double bass: The notes and actual pitch stretch out to create an evenness of tone which is beautiful and also extremely listenable. This actually has the effect of making you listen to each note and experiencing their full richness. It is as if the very walls against which the sounds bounce and reverberate add other sounds of their own, and the clarity is incredible in spite of the group’s recording location.

Whilst there was always a danger of the sounds clashing and the travel time along the length of pipe makes the playing at times slightly labored, Dead Neanderthals terrific new album somehow avoid clashes and incoherency.


Sammy Stein

Sammy Stein

The Something Else! webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, has been featured in The New York Times and NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Sammy Stein

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