In Dante’s Inferno, the second circle begins the proper punishment of Hell, a place where “no thing gleams.” It is reserved for those overcome with Lust, where carnal appetites hold sway over reason. In Nine Circles, it’s where we do shorter reviews of new (ish) albums that share a common theme.
Let’s have a moment, you and I. I want to come clean, because if we’re going to cultivate a relationship and earn a modicum of trust between us then I have to share some of the secrets of this gig with you. So, a little honesty: I’m slightly drunk (“slightly” being relative in this case). Also, and perhaps more to the point: sometimes I don’t know what the hell I’m going to write about an album before I sit down and start hitting the keys. Even now I can tell (even if you can’t, though my former admission may give it away) I’m stalling for time, trying to think my way to a hook to describe what I want to talk about in today’s Second Circle. In the music of both albums there’s an intangible quality I’ve been trying to get at, and maybe the only way to catch it is to just write, let the words fall out and see where they take me.
So let’s spend some time puzzling out our thoughts on the latest from Wolvennest and Arrebol.
I listen to WLVNNST, the debut concept from Wolvennest, and I’m not sure where to begin describing what I’m hearing. More of a collaborative project than a band, this is a melange of doom and occult rock filtered through a mesh of black metal, krautrock, and psychedelic horror film scores. The main conspirators are from bands I’ve never heard of (La Muerte, Cult of Erinyes) and features members of “Der Blutharsch and The Infinite Church Of The Leading Hand” which sounds ominous. A little digging reveals a pretty deep discography heavy on the psychedelics and soundscapes (including a collaboration with Aluk Todolo), which makes sense when you lay back and take a dark headphone trip with WLVENNST.
The aural experience starts off innocently enough, just your run of the mill bewitching vocals over a haunting, 70s-vibed and reverb laden doom march. “Unreal” plays the role of the melancholic gateway to this world, but it doesn’t truly hint at the sounds that await you. It works its one tone, one gear mode well, but by the time we get to the second track “Partir” I was happy to move on. We’re met with organ, vinyl scratches, and the sounds of the deep and the dark. But I despaired of more of the same, we get monolithic guitars crunching into the earth, the death march pace continuing. Things pick up with “Tief Under” which gives more of a hint of anger lurking beneath the death and doom, but the real epicenter of WLVNNST is the 20+ minute “Out of Darkness Deep” which crawls out of the murkiness of Hell and swirls with a fog of guitars, synthesizers, and chants that’s equal parts engaging and hypnotic. Movements flow in and out of each other, giving the impression of an improvised witchcraft jam. It never fails to rock, always teetering on the edge of being too long, too monotonous until a glacier-like change occurs and you’re swept back in. After a dozen listens I still don’t know what to make of either Wolvennest the band or WLVNNST the album, but like a siren’s call I keep coming back.
Arrebol is a musical experience I have a lot more context for. After all, I listed their self-titled debut EP as one of my favorites of 2016. So when I got the surprise announcement they had released a new EP, Restless, I couldn’t wait to dive in and experience more of the sorrowful blackgaze I fell for the first time out. Based out of Seville, Spain, Arrebol is the project name for one-man band Asz, and his particular style of blackgaze attacked all my weak points for the genre. So it’s interesting that while Restless immediately comes across as a leap in musical growth after multiple listens I’m left without a clear insight into its mysteries, even as I count it a definite early favorite for the year.
Spread over three tracks, all titled “Restless” the first track opens with the sound of someone coming home. A door slams. Footsteps echo in an empty home. A bedroom door is closed, keys and other items are dropped and you hear a sniff as the open chords ring out against atmospheric keyboard. Rather than bring you into the music it serves to indicate how isolated you are, alone with just these sounds slowly escalating in a dreamlike intensity. When things kick into gear about three minutes in I’m completely enveloped in a story I can’t understand.
Blackgaze either does it for you or it doesn’t. It’s a mix of the reverb, the shimmering chords and melodies juxtaposed against blast beats and buried screams. Arrebol doesn’t reach for the heights that Deafheaven or Alcest try for – the mood Asz is working with is decidedly more downbeat and inward in nature. Restless represents a huge leap in sonics from the debut demo/EP: you can hear a lot more of the melodies ringing forth in the guitars, and the solos (yup, there are solos) come in and out of the mix with a deceptive grace. Asz’s voice is barely heard; he’s content using his voice as another instrument rather than relying on words to bring the message of the music across. The second track sacrifices the dynamics of the first for a more full-frontal assault that still recalls key passages and phrases from the first track. “Restless – 03” is an instrumental, and ties the EP up in away that gives a sense of resolution to a story we can only fill in with the loneliness and restlessness in our own lives. I feel like I still haven’t gleaned the full sense of what Arrebol is saying with Restless, but it’s something I plan on coming back to again and again, thankfully they’re more than fullfilling the promise from their debut.
If there’s a takeaway I can impart this week, it’s that it’s entirely okay to not know what to think about something. Crazy, I know, in a world where as soon as something happens you have to post your opinion on it in 140 characters or less instantly for fear of not being “in the know” on the latest thing. Some things are going to take a little time to figure out, and admitting you’re still working through something shows more value in a thing than being “FIRST” to love or hate it.
Do with that what you will.