Grunge is dead. Whether in the tragedy of the actual deaths of its legends or in the almost complete stagnation in the genre’s evolution (beyond some fringe acts still operating out there), grunge is showing little to no signs of continuation. And, honestly, that’s fine; the insistence of the music industry on reviving or keeping dying genres around is to its detriment, much like the insistence of the western medical institution to maintain life at all cost, no matter how hellish. You see, when something dies, as in the age old cliche, there is opportunity for something else to grow in its stead, cannibalizing on everything that made that thing worthwhile and, hopefully, discarding everything that held it back.
Take post metal’s infatuation with the still-bleeding musical cadavers of grunge. The sub-genre which, if you look closely at your chronologies, was born not long after grunge’s heyday has much in common with grunge. The thick bass, the extended vocals, the overall aesthetic of despair and anguish; post metal and grunge speak in two dialects of the same language. Case in point, Impure Wilhelmina. This oddly named bunch has been in operation since ’99, their birth soaked within the still burning embers of grunge. However, over their career and during their current presence in Season of Mist’s roster, they’ve deepened their back-line, delved deeper wells of sorrow and set the distortion on their guitars as high as it would go.
On Radiation then, they channel the flickering memories of grunge and the faltering yet still incandescent flames of post metal. The result is an emotionally draining album that works through repetition, iteration and circles, like so many vultures around their rotting mark. “Sacred Fire” is a good example of how this works; the opening riffs are middling fast but still carry the heavy weight of emotion. They fit well with the vocals, which affect the same kind of detached fervor made famous by grunge’s greats. The track surrounds these ideas with a pretty standard structure, utilizing bridges and choruses as one would expect. However, the end has a nice variation on the theme, with the guitar lead diverging from the main riff in interesting ways before pulsating into a solo which should be no stranger to fans of post metal.
This, essentially, is what Radiation does and it does it well. Unfortunately, it seems that not everything has been discarded when carrying over from the prodigal parent that is grunge. The middle of the album can definitely feel like a slog, with the structures described above pretty much being repeated. Now, we can view this sort of recurrence in two ways: the first is more charitable towards the band and indulges them in saying that this is intentional, a musical idea aimed at creating atmosphere and immersing the listener in the experience. The second is a bit harsher and simply points to the rest of the bands operating within either genre (grunge and post metal that is) and noticing the same kind of flaw.
Whether we choose to be convincing by Radiation or remain somewhat skeptic of the closeness it resembles to the not so favorable sides of its providence is for each listener to decide. However, should you do decide to allow Impure Wilhelmina their say, you might discover a surprisingly effective album and one that creeps into your rotation when the mood strikes. Radiation won’t blow you off your feet but it certainly has its appeal; if the resonant timbre of grunge is what you crave and a modern treatment of it sounds good to you, then this is definitely the album for you. You won’t find many better within this not-quite-retro-yet genre or made by such veterans of it.
Impure Wilhelmina’s Radiation is out now through Season of Mist. You can purchase the album through SoM’s store here.