- The name Scuba Death refers to Ricardo Donoso's experience of nearly drowning when he was young. That's heavy subject matter for a techno record, but rather than steep itself in darkness and despair, Nitrogen Narcosis considers all aspects of the experience, from anxiety to wide-eyed wonder. Pitched somewhere between the emotive pull of Recondite and the rushing trance of Petar Dundov, Scuba Death is more traditionally techno than the American producer's work under his own name, though still as fluid as last year's As Iron Sharpens Iron, One Verse Sharpens Another. Here, Donoso strips his sound down and uses techno's metronomic qualities to mirror the vast ebb and flow of the ocean, adding in dub techno reverb for a grandiose sense of scale. Eking out this style with just a few synthesizers and some creative sound effects, Nitrogen Narcosis feels intimate, like a personal retelling of the incident.
Nitrogen Narcosis is defined by the sounds of water, a device that's equal parts comforting and threatening. Patient lapping waves open the record with "Receptor Antagonist," making way for sleek techno where the bassline rocks gently like it's bobbing on the surface of the sea. That calm is brief, however, with jarring chord stabs that lead us into "50-70 Metres," where glitchy screeches and the distant bellow of ships make it feel as if we're trapped underneath. Nitrogen Narcosis isn't just about creating unease, though—named for the numbness your body feels when submerged to certain depths, the record explores the complete, disorienting sensory experience of diving.
Fear and worry are sidestepped on the eerily still "Helium Tremors." Here, a barely-there bassline creates a free-floating feeling, with careful chords pinging about like fauna in an underwater cavern. Nitrogen Narcosis gets harrowing with its formidable nine-minute closer "Rapture Of The Deep," where a tough synth line fights through a low-end current. Snuffing itself out with one deep, sonorous note, the LP has a spectacular fake-out of an ending that'll fool you every time. Sure enough, those synth leads come busting back through, though the sudden moment of relief becomes ambiguous as the record fades into a more drawn-out conclusion.
It's hard to say whether that's meant to signify escape, or just a slower slip into the fate Donoso so narrowly avoided. That he can pack such a complex thread of ambiguity into what otherwise sounds like pure techno is a testament to his songwriting. Whether it's beautiful and wondrous or dark and claustrophobic, Nitrogen Narcosis is never less than engrossing.
01. Receptor Antagonist
02. 50-70 Meters
04. Helium Tremors
05. 90 Meters
06. Rapture Of The Deep