Wednesday 8 January 2020

White Ward - Love Exchange Failure (2019)

Country: Ukraine
Style: Post-Black Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 20 Sep 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | VK | YouTube

I'm always interested in seeing how far genres can stretch and no genre has stretched as far lately as black metal, which has gradually embraced sounds that not one person listening to the first Bathory album back in 1984 would have believed possible. Part of that is because of the advent of post-black metal, which is what Ukrainian band White Ward play.

For three minutes, this is soft piano and teasing saxophone, not the sort of thing you might expect from a traditionally confrontational genre like black metal. Perhaps the cover art influenced me subconsciously, but I felt like I was walking through someone else city where I was at once out of place but somehow still safe and comfortable. Then it veers wonderfully into a vicious section because that's what black metal does best.

As this title track runs on, it continues to alternate between soothing and vicious and the result is something that's very difficult to ignore. As it ends, twelve minutes in, amidst warm and organic pulsing, we know that we've heard something of note and want to go back to the start so as to experience it afresh immediately. I resisted the urge for a change and continued on.

Very few bands have the sheer command of dynamics that White Ward have and I wonder if that's because they came to this style from the opposite direction to usual. Often black metal bands start out raucous and raw and grow into a more diverse, more nuanced, more elegant sound over time. I may be wrong and what I can see on their Facebook page suggests that I am but it sounds to me like White Ward started out as elegant and nuanced and added the black metal vehemence onto that.

Either that or they fit a couple of session musicians into their line-up far more completely than usual. It would beggar belief if Dima Dudko on sax and Stanislav Bobritskiy on keyboards just wandered into the studio one day and laid down the tracks that they were given. They're inherent to this music, a crucial and key part of it, yet I'm not seeing them listed as actual members of the band. Whole sections of these songs simply wouldn't be there without them.

Even for someone like me, who's got used to saxophones in places I wouldn't have expected them, there's a lot here. This is a long album, featuring four songs over ten minutes, interspersed by three shorter ones that still aren't necessarily short. The shortest track here is only just shy of six minutes, meaning a running time of over an hour. It's easy to get caught up with the flow of this album and lose track of time entirely. When it eventually wraps up, it's almost a shock because we're living in the world of White Ward.

I should add here that the world of White Ward isn't quite as soothing as it initially seems. The title track, which opens things up, is warm, welcoming stuff to begin with but it ends on a darker note. Later songs emphasise that even in the quieter sections. Dead Heart Confession opens in a room where a radio is broadcasting about the crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer.

I'm not sure what goes down at the end of Uncanny Delusions and so also the album, but someone is clearly really unhappy about something, screaming her discontent. The band describe their music as "intensely deviant music of a noir share" and that's a neatly poetic way to put it. As welcoming as they often sound, there's a darkness below the surface if we pay attention.

I'm still in love with the Katharsis XIII album of dark jazz that I reviewed in October and this sits well alongside it. It's less jazzy but it's just as full of immersive depth and dynamic range. I'll throw this one onto the same device to listen to in the dark and see if it will stay with me as much.

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