White Ward is not afraid of change. From the adventurous and heartbreaking Futility Report to the intricate, dangerous intimacy of Love Exchange Failure White Ward is mutable, changing sound according to their experiences – a testament to a moment in time. With an atmosphere akin to fluorescent lights illuminating a dark hallway, the band continue to push their musical limits, blending their brand of post-black metal with dark jazz and synth sections making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. False Light, their third album, is a continuation of their sonic explorations on Love Exchange Failure with a new, refined eye, one that speaks deeply to my avant-garde tastes.
Diving into False Light one of the first things you notice is how the music is structured. First track “Leviathan” starts off slow and dream-like, a hazy introduction that makes you think the music will be toned down, but then saxophone kicks in and you understand the introduction was a ruse. Once the heavier aspects of the music kick in – the guitars, the drums, the vocals – you realize the band’s goal is to constantly play with that sense of tension. Throughout the album, this tension attempts to encroach and suffocate, only to offer relief by introducing more moving passages: a saxophone solo here, a spoken word there, some clean vocals to take the edge off. As the album progresses, it becomes apparent those same moments of levity begin to heighten, becoming beacons of something amiss. Over time you learn to simultaneously appreciate and fear these beacons, particularly when the unexpected shows up to pull you back into the album’s twisted sense of intimacy.
This constant cycle of tension and release, of moments of measured steps paced around moments of urgency, is what makes False Light so compelling to me. The music never changes this formula, but the moments White Ward decide to execute their sonic pivots is what keeps the listener invested. You want to hear how it plays out, how the arrangement continues to evolve within the track’s set world. While each song is part of a larger theme, the details – the instrumentation, the blend between various elements, and the way the vocals are sung – are the main focal points, the tissue holding the album together within its larger musical space. You are rooted in your seat because you can’t help but listen to what’s going on around you. You are fascinated, and your curiosity to see how it ends is what keeps you here.
On the grander scheme of things, False Light encapsulates a moment of levity within our world, giving us a space to just enjoy what we are listening. For 67 minutes, False Light acts as a shield to the cacophony of the world, an intermission in between moments of gritted teeth and constant exhaustion. Listening to this album provides a space of catharsis, a chance to fully lose yourself within its structured confines. Underneath the grime and the almost-dystopian currents, there is something beautiful and mystical begging you to stay until the end. It makes you appreciate what went into this album, what kind of internal and external horrors makes False Light so human.