Wilting and blossoming – two natural processes which both have something beautiful about them when viewed from different sides of an emotional spectrum. I won’t wax poetic about a simple metaphor, but I love it when an album title can capture the essence of an album on several layers concisely, like the Danish melodic hardcore gone post-rock Cartographs have managed to do on their debut. The first single from wilt & blossom, “peace was never mine to be found” (all of the song titles and album title are written in lowercase) pushes the album into bloom with some energetic melodic tapping lead guitar sections. These instrumentally stimulating feelings of hope and promise are repeatedly cascaded against harsh somewhere-between-hardcore-and-screamo vocals, not unlike The Drowned God or Earth Moves, and melancholic reverb soaked post-rocky leads which wilt you back into existential decay. This continual cycle of life and death expressed so elegantly in not just their album title but also the music, is at the forefront of what makes this album worthy of your time.
Wilt & blossom was recorded live in attempt to capture the intensity of their live performances. The vocals are mixed very evenly with the rest of the band, so they never really feel at the forefront of the music. This works overall as the vocalists fairly limited range starts to wane on my appreciation a little, but it’s able to act almost more like an atmospheric texture to the music. I feel had they been slightly emphasized and more of the range he does show utilized, a few of the more emotionally striking moments might have had more impact. The lower end of the drums can tend to muddy into the rest of the music when there’s a lot going on, but when they’re given air to breathe more exposed they really shine brightly.
“In Teal” is another really standout track for me because the first half of it shows another side of the talent deployed by Cartographs. I’ve long been captivated by this acoustic neofolk sound which bands like Agalloch introduced me to, and Ulvesang later really nailed. Short of forest field recordings, it conveys that feeling of being one with nature better than any other modern music for me and the first half of this song captures that beautifully. Equally impressively, they’re able to transition seamlessly back into their atmospheric hardcore sound while maintaining much of that feeling. These elements are also apparent at times in “through the garden gate”, which -as a big post-rock fan- is the strongest song on the album for me, and the longest, clocking in over 10 minutes. It’s likely also the most dynamic, with a very ambient, glistening instrumental midsection teeming in introspection. This eventually gets picked up by the drumming then gradually the vocals which carry it into a powerful crescendo which culminates with maybe the closest thing you could call a guitar solo on the album which admittedly leaves me longing for more.
The band’s melodic hardcore roots are exposed nicely on the following track, “more string than pearls” which takes more of a riff driven approach. Those post-rocky leads which dominate most of the album are layered with a groovy riff and bassline. Cartographs have stated their intention of moving away from “riffs and cool beats” to focus on more genuine song-writing, but they let the former have its due here and it’s a nice contrast from some of the more expansive moments throughout. The hardcore influence also shines in the album closer, “blossom under leaves”, where we see some of the heaviest and most aggressive vocals on the album.
I’ll admit at times I get a sense that this album doesn’t entirely know what it wants to be. It’s often a few blastbeats and shriekier vocals away from being straight post-black metal or blackgaze, yet a few breakdowns or a clean chorus from being post-hardcore, but it never quite goes all the way in any direction. This ambiguity leaves me a little unsure of what to want from it, but in its reservation comes its originality. But at its core it’s a post-rock album, with much of the song-writing approach you’d expect from the genre, but the strong variety of influences present lift it above mediocrity.
wilt & blossom will be released through Prime Collective on March 1st 2019.