White Ward’s Experimental Black Metal Gleams on “False Light” (Review)
White Ward are black metal troubadours. Their decade-long career has included stints as solemn blackgazers, demonic forest minstrels, and the house band at what could've only been a John Zorn-commissioned jazz club. This shifting pneuma has caused their career to be quite exciting from the outset, never really knowing in which role the band will land next. Even so, the pivot from Love Exchange Failure's decidedly metropolitan black metal to False Light's rural furor feels unexpected, but like their other ventures, it was not a move White Ward made in haste.
With their third album, False Light, the Odessa-based troupe expand on their blackened foundation, allowing a fresh round of influences to reinforce the beams of blackgaze and noir they've built their sound upon. In keeping with the theme of exploring beyond the urban cityscape and "searching for a better life and believing he [the album’s unnamed main character] can find it outside the big city," as guitarist Yurri Kazarian describes, one of the record's biggest deviations comes in the form of gloomy Americana stirrings. "Salt Paradise" plays out like a Gothic Western, cinematic in scope yet anchored by gentle acoustic strumming. It is a track fully removed from the band's metal trappings yet feels no less weighty. On "Cronus," guest vocalist Vitaliy Havrilenko's nonchalant drawl lends itself well to the band's bouncy post-punk instrumentation before the song’s metallic eruption moments later.
However, for all the smokey sax solos and acoustic tinkering strewn throughout the record, White Ward are still first and foremost a metal band, and False Light sees the band more thoroughly investigate this facet of themselves. The title track is rife with guttural roars and guitars that would not feel out of place on a modern death metal record. In that way, the album feels like a more encompassing piece of work, something where the term extreme metal is a more fitting descriptor than black metal.
Of course, this doesn't mean the band has completely abandoned their bread and butter, which has always been their stunningly coherent fusion of jazz and black metal elements. Their pairing of the two has only improved over time; opener "“Leviathan" features the expected overlay of saxophone atop tremolo riffs, but White Ward's mastery of the two genres far surpasses such an obvious aesthetic decision. Everything in the music–from Yevhennii's acrobatic percussion to Yuriy and Mykola kaleidoscopic riffs–are performed with the precision and zeal of jazz performers yet never at the sacrifice of the immediacy and aggression needed to qualify as metal.
White Ward is one of the most forward-thinking and dare I say important black metal bands today. Along with other progressive-minded acts, they are sketching new outlines of what is possible to do with this medium of music. As products themselves of past bands breaking boundaries, it’s exciting to think what new sonic mayhem they and albums like False Light might inspire moving forward.
False Light releases today via Debemur Morti Productions.