False Light by White Ward

Release date: June 17, 2022
Label: Debemur Morti Productions

White Ward are a Ukrainian band but this album was recorded before the invasion of their country by Russia. It deals with various dystopian themes but not that one – but we must be mindful of what the members of this band must be going through in their home country right now.

They’re essentially a black metal band and False Light is their third full length. I come to their music afresh and, although it was released some months ago, when I heard it I felt compelled to write something – it’s that damn good. I’m told by colleagues at Echoes and Dust that previous outings are also worth your listening time. The black metal tag also doesn’t give the breadth of White Ward’s musical scope any kind of justice. I’ve written before that one-dimensional, heads-down metal just ain’t my bag. The beauty of musical expression is that it doesn’t matter a jot what pigeonhole/genre/suitcase you want to put a band’s music in, sometimes it won’t fit in one place. It’s great to explore heaviness but who needs to be heavy all the time? There are some very light atmospherics on this album, along with some electronica, clean and growled vocals, some absolutely sterling more ‘traditional’ heavy metal fretwork, and – last but not least – a ton of saxophone that complements the BM aural assault that just kills when it gets going. But don’t call it darkjazz. The band won’t like it (I have it on authority). Besides the five band members there are more guest musicians and vocalists listed on the Bandcamp credits, and that adds to the musical variety. There are at least five vocalists that I counted. It all adds up to make one of the best albums I’ve heard this year. You can stop reading there if you like – that’s my review.

Thirteen-minute opener ‘Leviathan’ hits you in the face with a full-on face-ripping black metal but, as I say, there are many, many other elements, not least some lighter post-rocky-type sections. Everything comes together to make for something far greater than the sum of its parts. Furious black metal segues into a sax-led passage in ‘Leviathan’ that is as beautiful as it is well-placed, before building back to huge, crunchy metal with both coarse and clean vocals. The craftsmanship shines through from the first note – but none of it feels bolted on, something often experienced when a band is experimenting with a variety of sounds in one blend. Although the sax does feature big, it’s used skilfully as an instrument that complements the others – it doesn’t make it jazz or detract from the metal that barrels along in this terrific opener.

Second track ‘Salt Paradise’ has a totally different vibe – starting with a clean(ish) vocal, which I admit to not being so keen on at first, although it grew on me. It’s carried along with a wistful sax and sorrowful drumbeat. ‘Phoenix’, possibly the best track, has a melancholic vibe, with darker, death/doom vocals at the start. Then this 10-minute epic kicks into a blasting black metal attack with tremeloed guitar. This is mixed with atmospherics, sax, huge riffs and some very cool gruff vocals. There are lighter interludes midway, before return to the punishing heaviness. And Ievgen Karamushko’s drumming deserves a special mention, especially on the heavier, faster sections. The furiousness of the drumming holds the more frenetic parts together, cements them and drives the music forward aggressively.

There is a mix of experimentation, with some tracks serving as interludes before the main songs. There is the woozy ‘Echoes of Eternity’ that precedes the melodic ‘Cronus’, which starts as possibly the most accessible track on the whole album, with harmonic vocals and big major-chord riffs, before breaking out of its cage and unleashing itself as a raging beast, propelled by fast drumming and screamed vocals. Title track ‘False Light’ is the determined centrepiece of the LP, a near 15-minute epic that showcases all that this album has to offer, and more. It’s a distillation of everything that comes before it, and shows, wonderfully, that an album doesn’t have to be front-loaded to win the listener’s attention, coming as it does as the penultimate track. It’s got metal, atmosphere, pace and that beautiful sax that underpins a lot of the album’s sound.

In False Light, White Ward have shown that with musical variety, fusion of styles, sheer skill of musicianship and refusal to be pigeonholed they can make an album that is absolutely essential listening. It’s exciting to listen to a band with this much willingness to experiment and to break what might be considered the boundaries of a particular genre. Go get yourself some Ukrainian metal!

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