One of the most enjoyable trends we as a community have seen over the past few years is the gradual increase in bands and artists that are unafraid to diversify their sound from the outset. There are certainly arguments to be made for sonic consistency, but a band implementing a variety of influences and sounds over a metal skeleton is generally seen as a noble endeavor; a band challenging themselves musically and consequently elevating their sound is, at least on paper, a clear win-win situation for them. But for that to translate into music that is just as entertaining and enjoyable from the average listener’s perspective? That requires a bit more; a narrow balance needs to be struck between monotonous consistency and wildly unfocused eclecticism.
Without Waves‘ synthesis of multiple influences and styles on Lunar manifests on two levels. The more micro of the two is evident on opening track “Sewing Together the Limbs”, drawing from all elements on a vast sonic palette for a near-dizzying end result. The track is a sheer mechanical assault on the senses first and foremost (think Car Bomb meeting earlier Between the Buried and Me) but incorporates sharper dissonant moments and massive riffs à la The Red Chord just as easily, creating a magnificent, grimy tapestry of almost everything uniquely great about late 00’s American schizo-progressive death metal and beyond—capped off with a healthy dose of mathcore, of course. The relatively similar second track “Poetry in Putrid Air” easily keeps that momentum going, perhaps even elevating it further by the end.
But where Lunar starts with a fantastically promising one-two punch, the momentum is lost immediately after that. The listener is then treated to “Us Against”, a perfectly decent clean vocal-driven melodic track, but one that goes on for 9 minutes without ever reaching the massive crescendo it almost seems to be teasing at, meandering away after a brief distorted guitar section instead of capitalizing on the steam it appears to be building. And this is where the macro level of Lunar‘s two syntheses becomes apparent, and makes itself out to clearly be the less well executed of the two. The sharp divide between the first two tracks and the two heavily melodic ones that follow it is simply too wide to clear, and the short ballad-like tune afterwards does little to remedy that.
Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with metal bands mixing crushing heaviness with melodic clean passages—we’ve seen bands like Opeth and the aforementioned Between the Buried and Me work with this formula to endless acclaim and accolades over the years. The issue with Lunar, however, is that the contrast is quite large and positioned in too even a distribution, with neither facet of the band’s sound predominating enough for the band to establish some kind of overarching theme. The constant back-and-forth between these two aspects of their sound at the level of entire songs is simply too jarring for the final product as a whole to remain cohesive. It also remains that as decent as the lighter songs are, Without Waves’s songwriting sensibilities and overall strengths lie decidedly in the more metal end of the album; something that does not bode especially well for how Lunar‘s runtime is divided up.
While the album’s midsection flags as a consequence of this, even with heavier tunes such as “Victorian Punishment” in between, it does end on a very high note. “Memento Mori” is utterly crushing, a “Room Full of Eyes” analog for 2017 that rips with the ferocity of The Dillinger Escape Plan mixed with Without Waves’ own uniquely disorienting off-kilter sensibilities. Yet the track is still not enough to salvage the album’s momentum—it is very much at the level of the first two songs, sure, but too far removed to really recoup what the strong opening had going on initially.
We’re therefore left with an album exhibiting a level of sonic diversity that was most likely conceptualized with the best of intentions; it’s plainly obvious that the band set out to challenge themselves significantly with this album, and to that end they most likely succeed. Yet the end result is simply stretched too thin for a given listener to reap the benefits. The almost-disorienting heavier songs are truly outstanding in their synthesis of influences—on par with some of the best metal of its kind released so far this year—but the album as a whole struggles to elevate itself to its full potential under the weight of the comparatively less stunning cleaner material. The high-level musicianship and songwriting ability is indeed all here, and in copious amounts; it just remains for Without Waves to harness it in a more cohesive fashion on their next outing.
• • •
Without Waves’ Lunar releases March 17th, and can be pre-ordered on Bandcamp.