From the darkest depths of my litterbox, I hail you, my metal peers! Ukrainian innovators White Ward are back with another dark, brooding full-length album, following on from the excellent LP Love Exchange Failure and their 2020 two-track EP Debemur Morti. If you haven’t heard White Ward before, I think it’s fair to say that they’re probably unlike anything you’ve heard before, and in my opinion one of the best extreme metal bands in the world at the moment. To call them a black metal band would be broadly accurate, but their influences are so diverse, and their style so unique, that this kind of label doesn’t do them justice. Certainly, White Ward deliver enough searing tremelo picked riffs, blast beats and screams to please the black metal heart of this kitty cat. White Ward incorporate influences from post-metal, hardcore, and crust, but their most unique feature is their incorporation of saxophone, which creates a soulful, strangely urban atmosphere that reminds me of the gritty 80s police dramas that I watch on TV while Jimbo isn’t at home. It conjures up images of rain-soaked streets in some crumbling metropolis. Their music is probably the single best integration of jazz instrumentation within extreme metal that I have heard.
False Light opens with Leviathan, which mixes razor-sharp black metal riffs with brooding saxophone and thunderous hardcore-influenced sections, including a super heavy breakdown starting at the 2 minute mark. If you don’t nod your head to that riff, I suspect you may, in fact, be dead. The track sets the standard for the whole album, a 13 minute work of genre-bending heaviness. The song is beautifully bisected by a melancholy trumpet solo, and then followed up with a guitar riff that reaches Neurosis-level crushing....ness. I have run out of adjectives. As you’re tossed in the waves that White Ward create, you get the sense that overlapping dramatic scenes are playing out, with each being conveyed by a different instrument. While the scenes themselves are up to the mind of the listener, this almost narrative approach to song writing massively builds the atmosphere and tension through the track, and is ultimately released in the cathartic outro guitar riff of the song. This sense of tension and cathartic release is one that is repeated on other tracks, such as the excellent Silence Circles, where we see a shrieking saxophone solo take the place of guitar in the song’s final passage.
The subsequent tracks are of similar quality and scope, showcasing White Ward’s musical chops and their capacity to create works that are more than the sum of their diverse influences. Without wanting to harp on too much about the scope of this band (but I will), White Ward at times blend black metal (think Emperor, Dawn, Dissection, Spectral Wound, Panopticon), hardcore, jazz, post-metal, 80s synth/new wave, John Carpenter horror soundtracks, crust, 90s melodic punk, and brooding clean vocals reminiscent of bands like Type O Negative, Sisters of Mercy, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Silence Circles even has some guitar melodies that would make Judas Priest proud, and the haunting clean vocals on that track are enough to make my fur stand on end. How the hell a band does all that while creating a coherent work of art, I have no idea.
While musically the whole band put forth excellent performances, I have to single out as a particular highlight the drumming, which is hugely energetic and dynamic. The emotive vocals and musical tone match the dark, introspective lyrics, which contrast notions of urban decay against mental trauma and spiritual emptiness. The saxophone and piano add further layers of gut-wrenching emotion, and help to build that uniquely urban vibe present throughout the recording. But as black as the music of White Ward is, there are rays of hope and light amongst the bleakness. There are lyrics that inspire self-empowerment and rebellion, such as on silence circles. Overall, the atmosphere is one of turmoil and lurching change.
In conclusion, White Ward have achieved something really special on this album, and unless something dramatic happens between now and Christmas, this is a shoe-in for my album of the year.