Willoos Transforms ‘Depressive Black Metal’ on New Album “Begeerte” (Review + Album Stream)
Ah to have been there, at the inception of depressive black metal (referred to in shorthand as DBM from here). To have been in the conference room with Malefic and the gang, to have overheard the exchange in which it was agreed that black metal, a good and venerable musical discipline, might actually be a bit… obvious? Its melodies too forthright, its subject matter too fantastical. To have seen teeth appear in the grinning mouths of the corpse painted assembly as new ideas were encoded, grabbing the sorrow and the mystery of the genre and driving it even further from sight, into calcified caverns and stagnant lakes, and resulting in a new strain of music, an oblique appendage to black metal that actively hides from the listener behind static and fuzz.
Because DBM arrived in the world essentially fully formed, imaginary meetings or no, its parameters were defined quickly; and because there are relatively few notable acts doggedly committing to the sub-sub-genre, it’s rare that it produces much in the way of experimentation or break out artists. Enter Willoos, the solo act of W. Damiaen. Damiaen is deeply embedded in the prolific Dutch black metal scene as a member of Laster, Verval and Freja, and for more than a decade Willoos has been used as a container for ideas that don’t cohere with the output of his other active bands.
DBM was always the kernel at the core of Willoos, orbited by a certain hazy light and melancholy, and as their catalogue has grown that light has radiated more intensely. On new album Begeerte (Desire) brightness and warmth are finally pushed to the forefront, presenting the listener a with a stylistic puzzle to solve, and laying down a challenge: we’re so used to hearing black metal bands experiment with post punk, indie and shoegaze, so why not those playing DBM? Listen to an exclusive stream of Begeerte ahead of its release date below.
The album throws a comfort blanket over us to begin: "Overstijging" is a ringing wave of noise that genre heads will immediately lean into, making sense sequentially in that it provides a baseline ahead of the album’s subsequent subversions. They come thick & fast: songs that lead with snapping post punk infused drum lines, or feature layered druid like vocal harmonies, or interlacing acoustic guitar and piano melodies. On full listen, it becomes apparent that Begeerte is impossible to tag without a mountain of conditions: it’s DBM but, it’s shoegaze except.
Two realisations come from this. Firstly, the listener’s personal epiphany: permitting themselves to stop thinking about what the album isn’t frees us to take a step back and hear it for what it is. Secondly, the stylistic variation here stands out because DBM is typified by pure repetition and focus, but the abused frequencies of shoegaze and the rattling drums of punk utilise the same sounds, simply reconfigured. So out of the mire of categorisation, maybe it’s time to consider that DBM may be a more versatile toolkit than we give it credit for, capable of communicating a broader range of feeling–what do you call DBM without the D?
Damiaen has stated that Begeerte will be the final Willoos release, and in the same sense that this project initially freed him from the creative constraints of his other commitments, calling time on Willoos has ultimately freed him from any of the perceived limits of this canon, allowing him to reflect on the arc of the band, and write an ending, ‘I try to keep moving forward and develop into the best version of myself. I also try to show gratitude for the good things I already have. This is what I want to radiate as a person, but it is also reflected in the music.’
This sentiment, and the musical ideas used throughout the album, converge most successfully on its final song "Tussen Steden." On it, Damiaen’s singing finds a new level of confidence and directness, while styles and techniques that were woven gradually into the fabric of the album are pulled in one after another in service of a crescendo that simultaneously closes out a song, an album, and the body of work of an act that was founded to allow its composer to create 'freely and without judgement.' Willoos feel good about that, you can read it in their words and hear it in their music, so don’t tie your head in knots trying to fathom the implications of a DBM act with a happy ending, instead consider how beautifully freeing it is when acts like Willoos give us new ways to look at old tools.
Begeerte releases February 5th via Pest Productions (CD) and Kunstlicht Producties (cassette).