At their cores, Desideratum and Below the House are linked; two sides of the same loss. Thom Wasluck has always channeled the entirety of himself into Planning for Burial, and on his Flenser debut with Desideratum, he manifested pure sorrow into a hazy blend of shoegaze and ambient drone metal. Yet, it’s on Below the House that Wasluck’s music truly morphs into “doomgaze,” as his songwriting has taken on a starkly more direct, cathartic approach to coping with life’s tribulations. Whereas Desideratum was an ode to internal suffering, Below the House is Wasluck’s outward diatribe against a callous world, unwavering in its cruelty but malleable to the glimmering hope lying beneath his lamentations.
The album’s most obvious example of this is opening track “Whiskey & Wine,” a near about-face from anything Desideratum had to offer. From the gargantuan blackgaze riffs reminiscent of Lantlôs to Wasluck trading in his ethereal croons for piecing shrieks, everything about “Whiskey and Wine” feels like Planning for Burial amplified to a new level. Admittedly, the track is an overall short affair, reliant more on its immediate strengths rather than the building meditations found on Desideratum and Wasluck’s older projects. But this brevity makes sense given it’s the opening track, and it certainly grabs attention with ease due to both its stark contrast to what fans will expect and its overall terse but fulfilling development. This arc concludes with a blissful bell melody, which begins shimmering beneath the feedback-laden murk before glistening in a field of ambience. It’s a testament to the respite of the indomitable human spirit that, to at least some capacity, thwarts the sting of life’s pain.
Elsewhere on the album, Wasluck resumes the core of his Desideratum sound, albeit with a noticeable twist. “Threadbare” sounds like a pre-reverb Planning for Burial song, and his shift from a more plodding, meditative style of song development to a stronger sense of post-rock’s build and release provides the track—and other songs on the album—with an added punch and sense of immediate urgency. Wasluck further embraces his “post-” affinities on “Somewhere In the Evening,” defined by a stirring, Pelican-esque climax throughout accented by ringing Panopticon-era Isis melodies in the midsection. And on the two part “Dull Knife” saga, Wasluck opens with a shorter, doomgaze-oriented “Part I” before stumbling into the lingering darkness of Desideratum‘s shadow on “Part II” (in a good way). The lightened tone on Below the House makes this approach feel less obscured, and the chorus of vocals amid the composition adds a touch of camaraderie to an album rife with lonely sentiments.
Below the House also sees Wasluck further spreading his electronic wings, both in interludes and as parts of full-fledged tracks. The glitching, ambient introduction he builds “Warmth of You” around sounds like a blissful Gas or Huerco S. instrumental, and the combo makes for a gorgeous unraveling as the song explodes into a morose rendition of My Bloody Valentine. Later on interlude “(something),” Wasluck’s electric tinkering and alluring melodies welcome the ultimate flattery of intermissions – prompting the listener to crave a full-fledged song from the ideas presented.
Wasluck closes with a title-track that asks “what if Nine Inch Nails played ambient post-punk instead of industrial metal,” with an answer that will surely leave listeners with an excellent impression to cap off an equally exceptional listen. Planning for Burial may have never put out a wholly happy record, and Below the House is no exception. But there is an undeniable thaw that’s occurred with Wasluck’s signature songwriting style—a slight warming that’s only enhanced his music by making it that much more earnest. There’s no denying life is a struggle, and the general, emotive quality of Planning for Burial’s output reiterates that ad nauseam. But there’s still hope; there’s always hope. It may be faint, just like bells within blackgaze or blissful ambience amid roaring guitar fuzz. But in Wasluck’s music as Planning for Burial, you get the sense that this end-of-life brainstorming has a silver lining. At the very least, there’s a recognition of eventual peace, and perhaps further still, there’s a recollection of the worthwhile life that came before.
Below the House will be available via The Flenser on March 10th and can be purchased here.