Artist: White Moth Black Butterfly
Album Title: The Cost Of Dreaming
Date of Release: 28 May 2021
If you were following my work on this website back in 2017, you may have come across my review of ‘Atone’ by White Moth Black Butterfly (WMBB). You will therefore know that my heart was stolen by a record that wasn’t metal or rock, but instead, was a stunning blend of ambient, cinematic, and pop music. Without knowing anything about White Moth Black Butterfly prior to pressing play, I was unexpectedly captivated and beguiled late one night. I was also reminded in the most vibrant of ways, that good music is good music, whatever the genre. It was a revelation and remains a regular visitor on my playlist in the Mansion Of Much Metal.
When I got wind of a new album, I made sure that I registered my interest in reviewing it and made a nuisance of myself until I secured my access to a precious stream of ‘The Cost Of Dreaming’ which, for the record, is adorned by one of the most beautiful album covers of the year, probably longer than that in fact. For those not already familiar, White Moth Black Butterfly is the work of TesseracT’s vocalist Daniel Tompkins alongside his Skyharbor colleagues Jordan Turner (vocals) and guitarist/programmer Keshav Dhar as well as keyboardist/programmer Randy Slaugh and drummer Mac Christensen.
And I’ll be damned if they’ve gone and done it again. In a near mirror image of four years ago with ‘Atone’, my epiphany with ‘The Cost Of Dreaming’ came late the other evening, whilst laying on my bed in the dark. I was tired, frustrated, and generally in quite a low mood caused by several factors. And yet I found myself transported to another place; a place that I fell in love with despite it being rather alien to me if I’m honest.
When the band classify themselves as a ‘contemporary pop project with progressive and experimental music at its heart’, you kind of expect them to play around with new ideas and not rehash previous endeavours. And that’s exactly what happens with ‘The Cost Of Dreaming’. There are still plenty of rich, cinematic soundscapes, as well as lots of minimalism too. However, you also get a much greater emphasis on electronic sounds and more pronounced ‘mainstream’ pop leanings. I could hear a few of these tracks on the devil that is commercial radio, but I kid you not, I love the majority of them, nonetheless. There are a couple of occasions where my open-mindedness was tested to the limit and whilst they may still not register as favourite songs, they fit the album and I enjoy them for different reasons. Ultimately it all works incredibly well. But it is quite different to ‘Atone’, so be prepared.
This review can only begin in one place, and that’s with the vocals. Tompkins and Turner are a magical duo who separately are blessed with incredible voices. Put them together though, and it’s nothing short of electric. Jordan Turner retains that delicate, ethereal, breathy style that’s utterly delightful, whilst Tompkins flits effortlessly from a similarly delicate delivery to something altogether more powerful and arresting, all the while lacing the music with added melody.
Intrinsically linked to the vocals, are the lyrics and on ‘The Cost Of Dreaming’, WMBB explore some overarching themes without quite descending into concept territory. As Tompkins explains, this record looks at the way humans tend to plan for the future, sometimes at the expense of the present, and the effect it has on us when that future is ripped away from us. It can be a positive or a negative experience, but ultimately, the album is ‘an outpouring of love and a cry for help.’ Naturally, given the themes on the album, there are some interesting contrasts to be heard, making the whole experience even more fascinating and absorbing.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that WMBB had picked up where they left off as the soothing sounds of ‘Ether’ float through the speakers. To the accompaniment of birdsong and the heart-warming sound of children’s laughter, a beautifully rich soundscape is created, where a string arrangement plays with our emotions so effortlessly. Tompkins’ voice floats on top, adding yet more emotion to the track, almost pleading to the heavens as he sings with such power and passion. It’s a stunning way to begin.
Immediately however, the soundscape changes with the introduction of ‘Prayer For Rain’. It is driven forth by a bold electronic beat, whilst Tompkins delivers a more urgent, edgy performance, only for the song to open up and offer a ridiculously catchy chorus, bathed in electronics that sound like they came from the 80s. There’s a slight disco vibe in the chorus, something I should hate. But there’s a dark tone underneath the hooks that are too sharp not to dig themselves into your brain. And, as the song develops, we hear Turner for the first time, the icing on the cake.
There may be 14 songs on the album, but in true popstyle, only two of them venture north of four minutes in length, meaning that it’s a succinct affair, where the songs come thick and fast, as does the quality. ‘The Dreamer’ is next and it’s another composition I should run a mile from. It’s almost out-and-out pop, with another electronic beat, and sampled sounds aplenty. But Turner is mesmerising in her first leading performance, and the chorus is absolutely marvellous, an instant hit of glorious positivity, Tompkins every inch the next pin-up pop star. The guitars within the latter stages are brief but another nice touch, just to underline the competency of the songwriting in evidence.
If anything, things get even better courtesy of ‘Heavy Heart’, my personal favourite at the time of writing. It starts off with a gentle, tinkling piano melody before a strong electronic beat muscles into the fray. Words simply cannot describe just how beautiful the chorus is on this track though, a chorus I wasn’t expecting based on the bold verses. Rich strings and synths create that trademark WMBB cinematic experience whilst the melancholy melodies send shivers up my spine. The vaguely oriental feel to the song in the latter stages adds an extra note of emotion, as well as further welcome texture. Without doubt, this will be one of my songs of the year as far as I’m concerned.
One of the more difficult songs for me to like initially was ‘Use You’. I’m not a fan of those big, dirty electronic beats that shake a Renault Clio off its axles, but with time, I can appreciate the groove. It’s the second half of the track that delivers for me, as the song tackles the subject of domestic abuse. A crying female, a crying baby, and aggressive male shouting in the background make for stark listening, but it’s dripping with emotion thanks to Tompkins’ electric performance and the dark, atmospheric soundscape that replaces the groove.
‘Darker Days’ offers another big electronic beat but another immediate chorus to appease my initial dislike. The use of strange industrial-like sounds adds another layer of discomfort, but all is forgiven when the chorus returns. The final embellishment to make my toes curl is a saxophone solo from guest musician Kenny Fong, but I return to the melodies that mean I still listen to the track without a desire to skip on.
The minimalism of ‘Sands Of Despair’ is much more my thing and much more reminiscent of ‘Atone’ thanks to the unmistakeable talents of Randy Slaugh, whilst ‘Soma’ is another home run. You may have already heard it, but it deserves another mention because the interplay between Turner and Tompkins is stunning, as is the strong, dark chorus. And when the duo indulge in a full-on duet within ‘Liberate’, you get to hear just how perfectly the two vocalists fit together. Magic, I tell you.
There’s also time for an anarchic, brutal re-working of ‘The Sage’ from ‘Atone’, entitled ‘Unholy’, a gorgeously ethereal affair called ‘Bloom’ featuring guest musician Eric Guenther, and a perfectly rousing, closing anthem of positivity entitled ‘Spirits’ to close things out and, rather aptly, lift our spirits one final time.
The question I ask myself is this: ‘would I have wanted to hear ‘Atone’ mark II?’ The answer, given how amazing that record is, has to be ‘yes’. At least, that’s what I might have said after one spin of ‘The Cost Of Dreaming’. However, the more time I have spent with this record, the more I have fallen for its very different charms. The songwriting is just so strong, the performances so pin sharp and passionate, the experimentation so daring, that there is no way that you couldn’t fall for its charms. White Moth Black Butterfly are an incredibly special entity and whether it’s soothing and cinematic, or bold, dark, and smothered in electronics, their music just works. But more than that, it hits me in places that very few other artists manage to reach. Genres be damned, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool metalhead and I love ‘The Cost Of Dreaming’. And if you give it a chance, so will you.
The Score of Much Metal: 95%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: