Black metal has arguably the most eclectic genre palette in the metal pantheon. Though simple at its core, the genre’s aesthetics have been applied to countless concepts and shaped to include a multitude of other genres and accompanying instrumentation. Yet, the guitar still remains the one constant element in nearly all iterations of the genre, whether as a lo-fi wall of distortion or thundering gallop over equally blistering blast beats. It’s a rare occurrence when a band decides to forgo this six string staple; the only example this reviewer is aware of is Botanist, who instead opt for hammered dulcimers and harmonium. But when a guitar-less black metal album does surface, fans of the genre typically take notice to see if the experiment pays off. As such, the union of piano and drums in unholy matrimony on Wreche‘s self-titled debut makes for an intriguing experience that’s deserving of at least an exploratory listen.
The duo’s unique setup actually manifests into a pretty straightforward approach. Both Barret Baumgart’s drumming and John Steven Morgan’s screams stays comfortably within the confines of black metal conventions and remain competent throughout. And while Morgan’s piano work stands out by default, there’s not much in the way of variety when it comes to the actual compositions he weaves. This isn’t to say his playing is unimpressive; to the contrary, he deserves high praise for unleashing operatic black metal with one hand and rhythmic, low-end rumblings with the other. It’s as if the Phantom of the Opera is playing his own eulogy as Samoth of Emperor burns the theatre down around him.
But despite this promising foundation, there’s not much else to say about the album. Other than sporadic ambient textures and an annoying, repetitious vocal sample at the end of “Fata Morgana,” the aforementioned formula of theatrical piano key exploration over black metal drumming is repeated ad naseum over the album’s terse, five-track run time (one of which is an underwhelming intro). Morgan’s playing might occasionally simmer down from a flurry of dancing keys to a somber dirge, but overall, the duo never truly strays from the roots they establish on opening track “Angel City.”
This can all be chocked up to Wreche’s instrumental pairing. Botanist effectively toys with black metal’s formula by replacing the guitar with another stringed instrument; despite being played differently, the timbre of the hammered dulcimer falls in a sweet spot between originality and familiarity. Unfortunately for Wreche, the piano carries a much cleaner, brighter tone than even the most polished black metal guitar tuning, causing the album to sound more like a set of black metal-tinged Keith Jarrett covers that don’t adequately re-contextualize the piano’s shimmering notes. This often causes Morgan’s playing to fall into the background and makes the songs seem unfinished, a problem that’s amplified when he pulls double duty and uses the piano’s deepest keys to join Baumgart as a pseudo-rhythm section. These moments present a problem similar to what drum and bass duo Geryon struggled with on their last album; when two of metal’s traditional support instruments do little to dominate the spotlight, they both slowly creep into the background as the listener’s attention wanders elsewhere.
It’s truly a shame that there’s not much else to say about Wreche. While the duo’s instrumental pairing presents more than enough promise on paper, their execution only provides surface-level fulfillment and much to be desired. But there’s ample room for Wreche to grow, fortunately, whether it be through adding additional instrumentation or reaching a bit further outside of the formula that dominates their songwriting. Here’s to hoping the band crafts a sophomore album that’s worth more than a fleeting listen for the sake of hearing black metal in a different light.
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Wreche is available 5/26 via Fragile Branch Recordings and can be pre-ordered here.