Sunday, October 1, 2017

album review: 'futility report' by white ward

So I've said before that I'm never quite certain of the best place to look when it comes to new black metal, and thus when I heard the new Wolves In The Throne Room was dropping, I was excited to cover it... only to discover that it never made my schedule on Patreon. Now at first I was a little annoyed about this - I do like older Wolves In The Throne Room records, they're one of the groups that got me into the more atmospheric side of the genre - but considering the general critical response to the record has been mixed to say the least, I figured I might want to back off - it's not like I'm not busy enough already.

But still, I had an itch for some black metal, so what about this debut record from White Ward? They're a Ukrainian group known for blending in elementIgos of extreme metal and progressive metal into their atmospheric sound and the buzz had been really promising. On top of that they also posted all of their lyrics in English to Bandcamp, so a big step in the right direction for me. So yeah, late to the punch again with this, but it's not like anyone else on YouTube has reviewed this record in depth, so what the hell: how is Futility Report?

You know, it's funny, because my exposure to black metal has felt so piecemeal over the past few years, especially with Patreon I get the impression that the records I wind up covering are somewhat curated, pushing aside the forgettable chaff for the truly great records or those that are just too weird to ignore. Futility Report by White Ward... it's in the latter category, almost to the point where it's hard to directly classify this as pure atmospheric black metal and more a fusion with progressive metal, smooth jazz, industrial and hints of trap-influenced pop! I think the bigger disappointment is that after a lot of listens, I'm just not convinced the blend is quite as potent or compelling as it should be - a decent experiment and a daring debut, to be sure, but more than that?

Well, let's start with the elements I do like about this project, because again, this is not a bad project. Drummer Yurii Kononov delivers an impressive display in his percussion lines, switching from blast beats to more progressive sections with ease, complimented by solid basslines and as for the guitars? Honestly, Igor Palamarchuk and Yurii Kazaryan are both exceptional here, from the frenetic and aggressive tremolo riffing to more expansive, smoky sections to the solos that consistently are the best parts of this album, especially on the album highlight 'Black Silent Piers'. And while I wouldn't say his vocals were exceptional, Andrew Rodin's screaming was fine enough and fit the vibe of these songs - which contributes to the distinct feeling all the component parts are here for this to be a great record, at least in terms of talent. The problem comes in balancing these parts and this is an issue in both composition and production. Certainly there are impressive segments of these albums - the final third of 'Deviant Shapes' with the shredding riffs, the heavier groove anchoring 'Homecoming', the smokier texture and stronger black metal tendencies behind 'Black Silent Piers' - but these segments often feel isolated amidst a mix that'll suddenly shift gears without warning to a more quiet or spacious progressive side with programmed skitters of drum machines - not bad in isolation, but it compromises any sense of real flow, and not in a way that feels outwardly experimental. It's one of the reasons I think the final minutes of the closing title track are such a misfire - without warning we get a shift to blocky, late-90s inspired breakbeats and not only are layered in front of the guitars, which is a consistent issue with the percussion pickups all over this record, but it feels completely out of place and a really clumsy way to end a record. But the larger issue comes in the inclusion of that saxophone... and look, it's not entirely his fault here that for some reason the producer decided to layer that tone pretty much over top of everything else when it comes in. But if you're expecting a virtuoso or free jazz performance here... you're not going to get it, which means it can sound really disruptive when you have impressive as hell tremolo riffing and suddenly the droning sax line gets the main priority and it's just not as interesting.

Granted, the writing could have saved some of this... but I can't really say I'm a fan of the lyrics here either. Not that they're bad - they certainly can evoke some potent suicidal imagery, and the underlying themes of depression and madness leading to a belief life is futile is well sketched out - but they certainly feel by-the-numbers, not helped by the inclusion of an instrumental interlude that makes up one of the six songs here. I think a little more challenging detail or darker twists could have pushed the writing into better territory, but as it is, none of this feels shocking or even unfamiliar, and not exactly enough to give White Ward a distinctive identity. And that's arguably the largest problem I have with this record - without potent crescendos and tighter song structures or themes and writing that resonate more deeply, I'm left holding onto scattered moments of virtuoso playing that doesn't exactly build to up to more cohesive songs. And with the production not really bringing a sense of deeper texture or dynamics beyond some of the guitars, I'm just not really as grabbed by this as I'd like to be. As such, for me this is a light 6/10 and a recommendation if you're looking for some black metal that brings in a tone that feels a bit different, but beyond that, I don't really see much more pulling me back. Not bad, but not exceptional either.

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