Friday, November 16, 2012

Wither - Necropolis (2012)

Much as its cover casts a strangely hopeful light on the decay of urban civilization, through the luminous waterfall sifted through its ruins, so too does the music of Wither possess a strange, ironic warmth for its chosen sound. An admixture of depressive black metal and doom tinted aesthetics sparsely threaded with dreary, folksy acoustic passages providing an added, faint elegance to the music's sense of escapism, and Necropolis becomes more hypnotic the more I listen. This is in part due to the Australians' constant knack for aural exploration and willingness to eschew the normally endless and monotonous repetition one might naturally associate with this sort of hybrid style, creating tunes that are substantial but concise for this airy sense of pacing.

The electric guitars here have a grainy, driving sensibility to them which sets up a grand contrast to the other sounds. Riff construction is often minimal, simplistic chord progressions gliding along at a moderate tempo and used as a basin for the vocals, which are a mix of hoarser growls and rasps and solemn, psychedelic cleans that oft felt like Johan Edlund of Tiamat or some other Goth-tinted, Floyd-ian embarkation. The acoustics are both graceful and numbing, neither exceptionally composed or novel, but at the same time not ever distraction against the more emotionally weighted, heavier processions of notes. The drums have an incredibly stripped down feel to them, almost as if they were being played on a tinny kit with only a few pieces, but since Necropolis is not the sort of record that subsists on explosions of accelerated energy, these fit in well within the leeching, somnolent environment they support. I quite enjoyed the bass lines, which are these tiny, classic metal grooves and builds thumping along under the straightforward guitar patterns, enforcing that free-flowing sense of atmosphere and passionate sadness that the pessimism of the lyrics would impart.

Despite the downcast flavor of the material's theme though, Necropolis can in places provide a strangely uplifting feel due to the choices in notation. For instance, there's a thriving, hopeful undercurrent to the track "Seeming", and despite the grating, harsh vocals in a piece like "Transpression", which was redolent of another Australian act (Austere), the chords harbor a sullen majesty. Some might find the acoustic breaks or the dungeon synth/ambient piece "Lost" to be mildly inconsistent filler against the broader, superior metallic tracks, but I found that in terms of the empty, abandoned spaces they evoked, they gelled together well enough that I welcomed the diversity. I wouldn't have minded some better riff-writing overall through the course of the 43 minutes, but as atmospheric vehicles the whole of Necropolis is pretty smooth. More sad than bright, perhaps, but I get the impression that a bed of flowers was growing up through its considerable heaps of ash and decay, giving Wither an element of depth that wouldn't exist if they were performing with a full-on, caustic, snarling abandon.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

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