Artist: Wooden Veins
Album Title: In Finitude
Label: The Vinyl Division
Date of Release: 4 June 2021
When I hear the description ‘avant-garde metal’, I immediately think of music that’s off the wall, bonkers, eclectic, and downright mad. After all, we can all think of a few artists that might fit the bill in this regard. Knifeworld and Sigh immediately spring to mind. However, a check of the definition of ‘avant-garde’ reveals something a little more measured, namely: ‘new and experimental ideas and methods in art, music, or literature’. There’s no reference to the phrase meaning ‘weird’, ‘bizarre’, or ‘strange’. And that’s important for this review because, having been forced to re-evaluate my understanding of the term ‘avant-garde’, I’d say that it fits this record rather well.
The record in question is ‘In Finitude’ and it’s the debut release from Chilean quartet Wooden Veins. The band was formed by former Mourning Sun keyboardist Eduardo Poblete just last year, and he has been joined on this new journey by ex-Mar De Grises vocalist Javier Cerda, guitarist/bassist Juan Escobar, and drummer Alberto Atalah. To have a debut album out so swiftly after forming is impressive, although I’m sure the pandemic has helped on that score. Nevertheless, ‘In Finitude’ has arrived and over the course of the last couple of weeks, it has had quite a positive impact on me.
‘In Finitude’ is definitely an intriguing record, chock full of different ideas, sounds, and textures. However, it is far more subtle in its delivery, preferring to work its way more insidiously into your affections, rather than act like a two-year-old hyped up on sugar. There are some pronounced, unexpected juxtapositions to be heard within the music, but these are not nearly as jarring or overt as you might think. In fact, I prefer to describe ‘In Finitude’ as possessing a wonderfully smooth ebb and flow for much of the time, a flow that becomes mesmeric on occasion, almost hypnotic. In addition, whilst there are some slightly unexpected chord progressions or melodies, Wooden Veins do not fully alienate the listener in this regard; instead, the musicians are clever enough to imbue their compositions with some warm and inviting melodies to soften the edges nicely.
Having said all this, it has taken me a fair while to feel like I have got to know the music on ‘In Finitude’ and fully embrace it. This is why, despite my best efforts to the contrary, I’ve been unable to publish this review sooner.
What’s immediately without question, is the production that’s simply gorgeous. The bass rumbles beautifully, the drums sound powerful and sharp, and when there are explosions of sound, they hit hard without any loss of clarity. The opening track, ‘Thin Shades’ underlines this point perfectly. It’s a slow, lumbering, doom-like composition in some respects, equal parts plodding melancholy, fragility, and understated progressive trappings, such as within the layers of keys and the chosen melodic paths, from instantly beautiful, to more challenging. The contrasts are stark, but expertly delivered, ensuring that the song works at every level.
The contrast between songs is also pronounced, as ‘Beyond Words’ ably demonstrates. It kicks off with a driving beat, repetitive guitar riff and some interesting electronics for good measure. It is monotone for a good minute, meaning that when the change in note arrives, it is both a relief and carries greater prominence. As the song develops, there’s a surprising twist as we’re taken into black metal territory thanks to a frantic double-pedal beat from the drumming of Alberto Atalah, and colder, staccato-like guitar work from Juan Escobar. However, Javier Cerda refrains from any frowls, preferring to add his mellifluous tones to the heavier, more aggressive musical fare that surrounds him. It’s at this point that the echoes of Leprous or Soen lurk vaguely in the shadows.
One of the best songs of the entire album arrives in the form of ‘Herradura (By The Sea)’. The rich organ-like keyboard tones start things off before being joined by an intriguing rhythm from the drums alongside Cerda’s passionate voice. The bass comes into its own however, as the song explodes into more metallic environs, commanding and powerful in equal measure. The heaviness drops away to be replaced by the sound of the sea, assisted by well-placed, melancholy piano notes and subtle electronic sounds. It’s a stunning mid-song interlude that gives way to a section that builds gently but with melody and impressive musicianship, until my ears are kissed by the most gorgeous lead guitar solo, all passion, feel, and dripping with emotion, signalling the beginning of the end of the song.
What screams to me by this point, is the fact that the quartet appear to be in complete unison; they are clearly very talented musicians, but they all keep things in check until the composition demands otherwise. As such, despite the avant-garde stylings, there’s a strong focus and attention to detail throughout, with many of the subtle nuances remaining hidden until several spins are under the listener’s belt. I could quite easily try to dissect every one of the eight tracks within this review, such is the talent and the variation on display.
‘Mirages’ is one of the longest compositions and is therefore allowed a little more space and time to develop. As such, we get a weird, electronic synth-led section that is equal parts modern-sounding and 60s psychedelic. We also get moments of forceful, heavier intent which are laced with squealing lead guitar notes, that are juxtaposed with slower, ponderous, and more minimalist ideas. It’s a wonder how it all fits together so smoothly, but I can attest to the fact that it certainly does.
I love the darkness of ‘The Veiled Curse’, as well as the bruising riffs that emerge in the latter stages, signalling a rather rousing crescendo of sorts. I also really enjoy ‘Invern’ which carries with it a slight hint of Katatonia about it in places. It is a song that allows Cerda’s voice to take the spotlight for large portions, whilst building nicely across its length to gratifyingly open up and offer a superb melody. And the vibrancy of the bass during the second half of the song is marvellous also, complimenting the drumming really well.
‘Empty Arcs’ was probably the last of the compositions to fully click with me. Heavily effected vocals, electronic beats, and bold synths all come into play within the song as do some melodies that I didn’t initially connect with. As I type now though, the charm of the track’s clever idiosyncrasies have won me over and, perversely, I find it to be one of the strongest on the album.
The final song is the title track and it’s the perfect closer to the album. Once again, there are a plethora of subtleties and nuances to be heard, as well as a great ebb and flow, from quiet and soothing, to heavy and powerful. The barrage of drumming within the heavier segments really catch the ear, whilst the juxtaposition between warm melody and understated dissonance makes for a thoroughly rewarding listening experience. Those Leprous echoes also return, mainly within the vocal delivery of Cerda as the track reaches its midway point.
In summary, I can only conclude that in Wooden Veins, lovers of progressive and avant-garde music have a new band in their midst that requires immediate and undivided attention. From the richness of the sound to the quality of musicianship, and from the beauty to the experimentation, ‘In Finitude’ is the real deal. Give it time, and I have no doubt that many will be as bowled over as I am. And rightly so, because Wooden Veins deserve every accolade that is coming their way, I really mean it.
The Score of Much Metal: 93%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: