Written by Ellis Heasley
Crawl Below – 9 Mile Square
Doomgaze from Connecticut, USA
Released February 12th, 2021
It definitely takes a special skill to make music which manages to feel beautiful while maintaining a strong sense of melancholy. Perhaps one of the most obvious examples is The Cure, whose dark and mournful brand of post-punk is often deeply moving at the same time. In the 90s, Type O Negative took that doom and gloom to even further extremes, whilst still allowing soaring and ethereal melodies to poke through. To give a more a recent example, even Pallbearer’s stellar Forgotten Days LP from last year had some genuinely uplifting moments amid the band’s weighty doom and their lyrical meditations on grief. If you like any of those bands, then chances are you’ll enjoy Crawl Below’s 9 Mile Square.
Crawl Below is the one-man project of Charlie Sad Eyes. Formed in 2017, Sad Eyes’ releases have spanned a wide range of genres, including punk, black metal and acoustic folk. For 9 Mile Square, he’s chosen a brand of atmospheric post-metal with a heavy dose of doom as his primary means of expression. Conceptually, the album focuses on the history and legends of Norwich, Connecticut, in keeping with Sad Eyes’ previous explorations of his New England (US) origins. It sees him explore various aspects of the city of Norwich, including its casinos, hospitals, monuments, and historical figures.
9 Mile Square comprises six tracks. Most of these are reasonably lengthy, but none are overlong, the record itself clocking in at just 35 minutes. Opener Feed The Towers Above The Trees comes crashing straight in with a combination of thick distorted guitars, and others which play higher more melodic lead lines.Sad Eyes’ theatrical vocals soon add further haunting melody, and from here the song moves along at a slow and steady pace. It ends on Sad Eyes’ repeated ethereal refrain of “You cut yourself but the blood is not your own” and makes for a strong contender for the best track on the record.
Second and third tracks Fire On The Hill and Kingdom Of The Ruined are both a bit more driving, but still provide plenty of melody and doomy heft. The former features bursts of crushing post-metal amid lighter, floating breaks, while the latter’s heavy gothic feel is accentuated by its quieter, more delicate moments. Sad Eyes’ vocals are a highlight throughout, often drawing comparisons to Type O Negative’s Peter Steele. The stand-out moment arguably comes on the album’s fourth track Monument. Here, his voice seems to drip with genuine and powerful emotion as he tells the story of Miantonomo, a famed chief of the Narragansett people of New England Indians.
It’s surely fair to say that it feels like Crawl Below finds a bit of a formula on 9 Mile Square and sticks to it. While there are some shifts in dynamics and the odd breaks in distortion, for the most part it sits in more or less the same place. Most of the songs are relatively similar in their tempo, and Sad Eyes definitely isn’t afraid of taking his time with an idea or section. This is hardly the end of the world however. Firstly, the record’s relatively short runtime means it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Second, 9 Mile Square is hardly the most repetitive doom album out there. And finally, one need only a cursory listen to Crawl Below’s other output to hear Sad Eyes isn’t exactly short on creativity or ambition, and therefore the relative similarity of the songs on 9 Mile Square is surely an intentional product of his desire to pursue this particular musical avenue.
Overall, 9 Mile Square is an impressive album which does a good job of striking that unlikely balance between sorrow and uplifting melodic beauty. Even if it does start to run into a bit of a formula, it helps that the quality of the songs never dips significantly. Tarnished The Name and the title track round out the album nicely without throwing up any huge surprises. Once it ends, it’s clear we can add doom metal to the list of genres Sad Eyes is capable of delivering on. It may not be the most inventive take on the genre, but it still ticks all the right boxes when it comes to emotive, and often moving, heavy music.