Bath, released in 2001 by progressive metal band maudlin of the Well (spelled with a lower-case “m”), is an album doomed never to be heard by most people. In fact, it is an album doomed never to be heard by most metal fans. But despite its obscurity, Bath is easily one of the most daring musical achievements of the decade, and I am glad to be one of the precious few that have heard it.
Seamlessly blending elements of metal, jazz, and indie, listening to Bath is truly an otherworldly experience. And perhaps the method in which the album was composed does a great deal to explain just why it sounds that way.
Toby Driver, the singer and front man behind maudlin of the Well’s music, claims they don't even compose their own music. At least, not compose it in the way one would expect.
Driver and the rest of the band use a method called “astral projection” to find their music, already composed, on the “astral plane,” which exists outside the realm of physical existence called spiritual existence. It can only being reached by inducing an out of body experience, achievable through the medium of lucid dreaming. Once maudlin finds their music in the astral plane, they “bring it back” to earth, and compose it as closely as they can translate it.
Whether one belie ves in this or not, the music itself suggests a mystical quality. Bath literally sounds like nothing else ever composed — and the effect is absolutely beautiful, which seems counter intuitive in that it is considered metal. At least, as far as maudlin of the Well goes, "metal" is a very loose term, as much of their music is actually soothing and jazzy.
Maudlin of the Well released their first album, My Fruit Psychobells…A Seed Combustible in 1999. When I first found this album on the Internet, I expected with a title like that, one should expect some pretty weird stuff. And upon first listen to that particular album, I must admit I was equally startled as I was enthralled at what I heard. Like all of maudlin's music, their first album was haunting, beautiful, traumatic, urging, happy, loving, warm, powerful, and mysterious. It is exceedingly rare to hear such emotion conveyed in notes. Ever.
Now for their next album, Bath, multiply all that by ten. Bath, and its companion album Leaving Your Body Map, were both released in 2001 and continued in the vein of My Fruit Psychobells… with their excellence in expressing emotion. But each topped what My Fruit Psychobells… did in 1999. But of all three of their legendary albums, this one outshines them all, and in my opinion, tends to be more listenable than its counterpart Leaving Your Body Map.
The album opens with “The Blue Ghost/Shedding Qliphoth,” a particularly powerful piece which starts softly in its first two minutes with a single guitar plucking a strange progression of notes — beautiful, sparse, and tense. Then enters the alto saxophone solo, a sad melody across the ethereal space conjured by the backdrop of plucking guitars. Then, around minute seven, a sudden crescendo sends the entire piece into a maelstrom of wailing guitars, violent with passion.
The second track, “They Aren’t All Beautiful,” is the heaviest piece to be composed by the band, heavy enough to make even the metal veteran wince at its intensity and bombacity. The outwards intensity echoes desperate and powerful lyrics such as, “See through my eyes, POETRY!”
Track three, “Heaven and Weak,” showcases maudlin’s talent for interspersing soft, beautiful segments with frenzied metal without making it sound out of place — I can see this track being the highlight for many. Track four, “Interlude One,” is just that — an interlude into the next track featuring some nice acoustic guitar.
Track five, “The Ferryman,” begins with a positively evil sounding organ solo. Composed in a strange, Greek-esque seven/four time signature, the song is sung entirely in Latin and relates the story of a man’s descent into Hades aboard Charon’s ferry. The track ends with the echo of the ferry’s paddle plying through the cold subterranean water of the River Styx against the backdrop of groaning souls.