There’s a building outside of my apartment which haunts me. It’s positioned in a way that provides for maximum impact during both the day and the night. It towers over a usual path that I take. During the day, it is brimming with the potential of a hundred or so lives being lived, like a spaceship cutting its way through space, its denizens set to colonize some far-off planet with the detritus of their lives. By night, the building holds a million secrets, collecting in corners not quite fully light by failing lights, hints of emotions and personal stories all over the place. This is one of the reasons I love living in a city; the variety of modes, emotions, and modes which an urban landscape can evoke is second to none.
This kind of “urban emotional fecundity” (yeah I just made that up, sue me) is all over White Ward‘s upcoming album, Love Exchange Failure. Beyond “just” the evocative title and the obviously relevant cover art, the album also offers more emotional variety than the band’s previous release. While it was an excellent release as well, Futility Report felt more like a proof of concept for the band’s particular style of post/progressive black metal. Thus, its colors were stark and duo-chrome; the album oscillated between heavy and light, dark and light, without much spaces in between. Love Exchange Failure, in contrast, is an incredibly varied album, hitting in more diverse and fully fleshed out ways. It is still stark at times and lush at others, both abrasive and melodic in different ways, but it mixes these ideas up more to create a more nuanced soundscape. As such, it channels that kind of “urban variety” which we referred to above, channeling the kind of warm yet ultimately distant embrace which cities can have.
The self-titled track which opens the album would be a natural place to begin. It has what has become the band’s signature saxophone parts, an extended run-time, and many highs and lows which run the gamut between emotionally laden, quieter and furious expressions of black metal acidity. But instead, I’d like to talk about the track which immediately follows it, “Poisonous Flowers of Violence”. This track, perhaps more than any other, does a great job of explaining why I love this album, mainly because it features that variety which makes it such a challenging and rewarding listen. “Poisonous Flowers of Violence” opens with a brooding segment propelled forward by excellent collaboration between the drums and bass. This collaboration creates a great groove on which the more post-rock tinged guitars work.
This more contemplative line for the instrumentation continues throughout the track, even as harsher, more classically black metal vocals are introduced. Sure, the drums pick up pace pretty quickly but the basic riff continues to slowly and gently reiterate on the original idea from the beginning of the track. Throwing in some tremolo picked riffs, the instrumentation nevertheless continues to iterate, develop, and interact with the basic formula which makes the track work. And that’s what I love so much about it; usually, these opening moments of the track would get swallowed up in future, heavier parts (the contrast between the two dubbed as “progressive” by those who interpret that term to mean “different at certain times”) only to come back as an outro to nail home the idea of “contrast”. But here, the ambient and contemplative segement grows, breathes, and patiently evolves alongside the more aggressive, powerful, and melodramatic aspects of the music. The track grows “organically”, revolving around an idea before it fully flowers into the overwhelming crescendo at the end of the track.
And in those massive moments, where clever composition, the excellent vocals, the saxophone and grand piano (yes, they’re here), and black metal roots finally meet, is where Love Exchange Failure truly excels. It is a much more carefully constructed album. Throughout it, just like on the second track, the various influences, ideas, and “colors” which make up White Ward’s sound are allowed plenty of time and space to grow, evolve, and be expressed. This makes it a very enjoyable album on a few levels; you can listen to it “just” for its over-the-top, emotionally fulfilling moments. You can list to it “just” for the black metal fury it holds. You can listen to it “just” for the beautiful softness of the saxophone. But unlike so many albums made in the same vein, you can also listen to it as a whole, as a complex piece of music which grows around itself. It does so in conversation with itself, setting as it does most of the rest of the genre to shame with its musical callbacks, structures, and flows.
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Love Exchange Failure sees release on September 30th. You can head on over to the band’s Bandcamp page above to pre-order it, as well you should.