Somehow the seedy dive bar you enter is darker than the night outside. The music throbs, sending out pulses your cerebral cortex can’t process but some older, primordial part of your brain instinctually knows, and understands. It’s that crux, that convergence of the primal beat that falls partly between the post punk of the early 80s and the tradition of gothic rock and roll, where early Danzig meets The Cult and howl into the moonlight. Call it whatever you want, “death rock” or otherwise; there’s no mistaking the bleeding heart of influence laid bare on the sleeve of The Wraith. To have something like Gloom Ballet arrive like a shot so late in the year is like that one drink at said bar that puts you over the edge from wary observation to full-on goon dance, and it’s a marvel to experience.
There are plenty of bands taking the retro route and finding a piece of flesh to carve and leave their mark, but few to these ears do it with the nonchalant cool that The Wraith have since releasing their demo for “Comatic Romance” in 2016. That song title should tell you all you need to know about what to expect, but for more tangible (or aural) proof, one listen to 2017’s Shadow Flag EP should seal the deal. Tight, compact songs that rock hard with a keen edge to the swirling smoke of late night sneers and a solid post punk aesthetic that revels in the glory of a hook. Everything has a sweaty, dank reverb and a snarling guitar tone that doesn’t mistake excessive gain for heaviness. The Wraith prove with every riff and chorus that the difference between being “heavy” and being “metal” in a time where we’re deluged on all sides by extremity is the band is not afraid to reel you in with the deceptive beauty of a well-placed “ohhhh” or a washed out droning guitar line that truly stands out in a crowded room.
Which brings us back to the midnight pulp of Gloom Ballet. Getting picked up by Southern Lord allowed the band to seriously beef up the production, laying down subtle electronics and bringing out the guitars to ring more against a massive foundation of drums and bass. Opener “Ballad of Aeon” thrums with a baseline charting a course similar to the best of bands like Joy Division or early Killing Joke. But then the guitars of Kaz Alvis chime in, and it burns and aches with a bruised fragility. It doesn’t emulate the sound of the 80s…it IS the 80s…all the heartache and bleak cool of raising a middle finger to the things that keep you down as you just shake and sweat and move to a rhythm you think was put on this Earth just for you. And that’s before the massive voice of Davey Bales, who sounds like he’s pouring his soul out between each inhalation of alcohol, every exhalation of smoke.
After the synth bass opening of “Wing of Night” there’s this wicked little dissonant chord that anchors the song, and everything on Gloom Ballet has that certain little identifying tic and tremor that make the songs stick like a poison in your head. Whether it’s the U2 influence that marks the opening of early single “Prevail” or the wicked bass in “Pyro” (let’s all take a second to pay our respects to the massive sound achieved in the sub-frequency department courtesy of Paul Rogers or how seamlessly he locks in with Scott Raynor on drums…this music lives or dies with its rhythm section). Then there’s the spare, forlorn beauty in “Piano Interlude” which just this evening I imagined an entire video for in its 1:13 runtime before falling into the embrace of “it needs to be single” drive of “Devil’s Serenade.”
The fact of the matter is it doesn’t really matter where you start or stop on Gloom Ballet – The Wraith have you covered. This is music found between the seconds of the midnight hour, where sound takes on a life that matches the mystery in your soul.
In other words, have at it…great stuff.