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Impure Wilhelmina – Black Honey

I was surprised but pleased to see the full stream for a new Impure Wilhelmina appear on Terrorizer a few days ago. Their two preceding albums — 2004’s L’Amour, La Mort, L’Enfance Perdue and 2008’s Prayers and Arsons — were among the most underrated metal/hardcore hybrids of the aughts. But since they’d been mostly silent for the past six years, I’d assumed that they’d broken up. Not so.

Impure Wilhelmina’s lineup has changed considerably since Prayers and Arsons, but the core ingredients remain mostly the same. Guitarist/vocalist Michaël Schindl still anchors the band; he still has a preternatural gift for writing emotive but tricky chord progressions; the rest of the instrumental unit still backs up those chord progressions with dexterity or heft at exactly the right moments. Black Honey is an impressive display of both power and control. Its songs are gorgeously constructed; they slip from gossamer harmony to morose power-chord march to tense, dissonant suspension smoothly, almost imperceptibly, like a European luxury sedan shifting gears.

The biggest departure separating Black Honey from Impure Wilhelmina’s earlier works lies in Schindl’s vocals. On their older albums, Schindl led with his powerful scream and used occasional clean vocals as a foil. On Black Honey, the harsh vox are gone; virtually the entire album is given over to his tremulous singing voice.

This decision will pose a problem for many. To put it bluntly, Schindl is not a strong singer. Though the rawness of his voice has a certain warts-and-all appeal, his wobbly pitch and weepy melodies sometimes defuse the drama of the instrumentation. It’s a testament to the power of that instrumentation that I still find Black Honey a compelling listen.

Though I miss Schindl’s scream dearly in these songs, his shift makes artistic sense. He has another project now — the black metal band Vuyvr, whose excellent first album (reviewed here) was one of my favorites of 2013. He uses his harsh voice to great effect on that album; given the limitations of the delivery and the long period during which he’s been using it, it follows that he’d want to try something different in Impure Wilhelmina. Many would do the same in his position, even if it meant alienating past fans. Artists’ interests don’t always align with those of their supporters. Such disjunctions usually come with a price, and Impure Wilhelmina pay it here.

Black Honey is out on February 14 via Hummus Records. Stream it below.

— Doug Moore

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