By Rob Hughes
My wife and I often walk a trail out to our favourite point on Mayne Island, BC. It’s an incredibly peaceful place, where you can perch on a rock, listen to the wind, and watch the kelp beds bob on the ocean. We have a saying, though: “Something always happens at the point—you just need to wait.” So while other hikers arrive, look around, and move on, we linger. A pack of squabbling ravens might descend, startling us with screams that make city crows sound meek. A lone seal might surface, check us out, then dive again. Or an eagle might swoop down to steal some hard-won morsel from a seagull (eagles are jerks that way). Each time, we realize that the point is serene only from our small perspective—above and below us, there is constant activity, even turmoil. That’s what listening to Worm Ouroboros is like.
The San Francisco trio are watery and elusive. Their music employs a lot of space; at times it’s barely even there. The vocal melodies blend with chiming guitars and were difficult to grasp at first. Eventually, though, Jessica Way and Lorraine Rath’s voices worked their way into my consciousness; popping into my head after I’ve stepped away from the album for a day or two. I particularly like Rath’s stealthy bass lines, fearlessly exploring clusters of non-obvious notes and vibrating in sympathy with the drums, which are similarly subtle and crafty. This isn’t really heavy metal. Tributaries of post-rock, prog, ambient, and doom mingle in their often lengthy songs. When the distorted chords kick in, they’re equal parts Tony Iommi and Neil Young in his Freedom/Ragged Glory period; thick and definitely ominous.
“Winter” blends enchanting vocal melodies (with lyrics from a 1640 poem by Thomas Carew) and a thrilling guitar solo section that resolves itself beautifully. “Riverbed,” after a gentle, flute-strewn opening, demonstrates how effectively they can craft extended riffs and sustain heaviness. At times Worm Ouroboros threatens to drown in subtlety, and the listener struggles to pick up the thread. “Goldeneye” embraces stasis for nearly 8 minutes, while on “Pearls” the momentum slackens until the song threatens to collapse before being rescued by crashing chords. Something always happens; you just have to wait.
The cover art—Rath’s own painting of a sea bird diving amongst drifting weeds—represents the music perfectly. The band, likewise, dive in without hesitation, never shy about setting themselves adrift on the musical currents they generate. On the surface, they wallow in beauty and atmosphere. But after repeated listens you can get beneath the surface, into the substrata of the songs themselves, which is where this album’s rewards really dwell.