Artist: White Ward
Album Title: False Light
Label: Debemur Morti Records
Date of Release: 17 June 2022
I missed the White Ward’s last album, ‘Love Exchange Failure’ in 2019, so I also missed the fact that the Ukrainian band had added a new musician to their ranks, saxophonist Dima Dudko. Those that are familiar to my reviews will know that this spells trouble, for I am not a lover of this particular instrument. Neither am I a fan of brass instruments, the trumpet being top of my hit list. And yes, you guessed it, the trumpet also features on ‘False Light’, albeit not to the same extent as the saxophone.
I have got on my high horse plenty of times, bemoaning the increasing prevalence of these instruments in metal music over the last few years. But this time, I really listened and delved deep within myself to try to work out what it is that puts me off so much. And the reason why I am so keen to do this right here, right now, is because, were it not for my dislike of brass instruments and the saxophone, we would be standing in the presence of a genuine top five or top ten contender in my 2022 ‘Album of the Year’ list. In every other conceivable way, ‘False Light’ is a behemoth, a fantastic body of work that impresses me no end. I felt I had to explore my prejudice in greater detail then, and to better understand it.
This I have done, and I have had a bit of an epiphany in the process. Sadly, not the epiphany that I wanted, where I could genuinely say ‘I like the trumpet and the sax’. But a few realisations have been made. The first is that brass instruments within an ensemble, or as part of wider orchestration, I can handle and have no issue with at all. My problems stem from the instruments when they are solo, prominent within the composition. If they are used sparingly in this context, quietly or gently within the general framework of the music, again I can deal with this. But, if the saxophone or trumpet is used as the primary instrument within a song, or within a particular part of a song, that’s where it gets difficult for me.
I can only liken it to the way in which the sound of nails down a blackboard, or a knife cutting an empty plate can set some people’s teeth on edge. I have realised that’s the case for me with the sax or trumpet; I don’t want to dislike their involvement, but I simply can’t help it. I grant you that part of me wishes that the solo notes were played by a guitar, but I’d accept the flute, violin, piano, instead. Anything but the sax or trumpet. I’m sorry to all those who like these instruments, but I can’t help the way I feel.
It’s therefore inevitable that others will be giving ‘False Light’ a far better score and write-up than I will, but as I said earlier, everything else about this record is out of the very top drawer and should be commended as such. If you’re not afflicted with similar prejudices to me, prepare to have your mind blown.
The album begins with the appropriately named ‘Leviathan’ because the song is an absolute monster. At over thirteen minutes, it’s a bold opener but it becomes quickly apparent that White Ward are not afraid of taking risks or tying new things. The opening minute or more is quiet, tentative, and shy, before in marches the heavy guitar tones of Yurii Kazarian and Mykola Previr, gurgling and rumbling bass, and interesting drumming courtesy of Ievgen Karamushko that delivers blasts but is much more refined and varied than that. We get an early blast of the sax but as I said earlier, I can live with it in this context, especially when it is quickly replaced by some crushing black metal that’s powerful, emotional and melodic. The rasping growls of vocalist and bassist Andrii Pechatkin are truly nasty and also strangely full of sorrow at the same time. The atmosphere and drama is palpable despite the frenetic and aggressive black metal assault which, blended with the melody makes it a real force to be reckoned with. At almost exactly the mid-way mark, everything drops away to reveal a minimalist post rock ambience, upon which guest trumpeter Jerome Burns adds his solo skills to take us into avant-garde jazz territory for a good couple of minutes, before the heaviness returns, along with more pronounced saxophone embellishment from Dima Dudko. Clean vocals from Vitaliy Havrilenko add yet another dimension to the song that honestly feels like it lasts half the time that it does. And that’s in spite of my aforementioned prejudices and misgivings. That’s how good this moody composition truly is.
The even gloomier and moody ‘Salt Paradise’ throws in a curveball thanks to the almost spoken-word singing of Jay Gambit, nothing like the aggressive and atmospheric black metal fare found elsewhere on this album. Nevertheless, it shows another side to the band, and will intrigue many a listener, even if it’s not an instant favourite of mine.
The bass within the dark opening to ‘Phoenix’ feels like it could jump out of the speakers and throttle us, such is its demonstrably menacing approach and tone. The vocals, when they arrive are equally as fierce and dangerous, whilst the all-out speed of the fast-picked tremolo riffs are a thing of real frigid beauty. I also love the chosen electronic synth sounds that bathe the quieter passages within the song.
Elsewhere, I cannot resist some of the riffing and melodic intensity within ‘Silence Circles’, a song that unleashes some of the most savage but majestic material found anywhere on the record. Plus, the playful, groovy NWOBHM-inspired riff that jumps out towards the end is another unexpected delight. Speaking of the unexpected, White Ward again toy with the listener with ‘Cronus’, a very different track that features Vitaliy Havrilenko once more, and calls on a more Goth-sounding vibe, blending this with post black metal tendencies and more of a punk attitude in places.
But undoubtedly my favourite track on ‘False Light’ is the title track which stands at an impressive near-fifteen-minutes. I actually like better the avant-garde passages within it, plus the latter stages feature my favourite riffs. Add to this a more pronounced quota of groove, beautiful clean vocals from Adam Symonds, and a bona-fide lead guitar solo, and it has to end up at the top of the pile for me. It also underlines the fact that nothing will beat the sound of a well-executed guitar solo; it just can’t be done.
In order to remain consistent, I have to mention the 66-minute run time which is just a little too long in my opinion, especially when you consider just how intense and aggressive much of the music is on this album. This minor niggle alongside the issues discussed in detail at the outset of this review mean that ‘False Light’ falls a touch short of being considered as an essential album as far as I’m concerned. However, I am absolutely certain that most of you out there will disagree and proclaim ‘False Light’ as a masterpiece of extremity and originality. And I get it, I really do – this is a band and a record that deserves all of the plaudits that it gets, and I wish the band nothing but success with it. And success is what they will get thanks to the vast majority of the heavy metal community lauding another superb release.
The Score of Much Metal: 88%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
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