Friday, February 7, 2014

W.A.I.L. - s/t (2013)

Resonance: some albums achieve it, and some are born from its womb. The latest eponymous title from Finland's W.A.I.L. could confidently be categorized to the latter effect, due to its heavily atmospheric tendencies. Blackened death and doom that seems so thoroughly conceptualized through the lyrics and liner notes in the tape's accompanying booklet that you have to wonder, what came first? The riffs or the decision to explore these philosophical/historical themes ranging from Buddha to Sparta? Note progressions and chord choices here are hardly as complex as the subject matter they support, but completely complementary to the ephemeral nature of the ideas expressed, and like the last s/t from 2009, the album possesses both a soothing and sociopathic sense of contrast cultivated through moments of controlled tension and tranquil release. The songwriting is not so memorable as the intellect of its author, unfortunately, but W.A.I.L. can easily hook your attention and keep it across a number of listens.

The greatest strength of this latest eponymous excursion is in its production, which for a cassette release is all too well balanced across multiple frequencies. Bass lines swell and groove with determination, providing a rich substrate for the highly atmospheric but still riff-wrought rhythm guitars. The drums thunder and crash, with fills that sound fantastic and just enough technicality that you could listen to them without the other instruments and still feel a sense of momentum. The vocals are definitely where W.A.I.L. steer slightly deeper into death metal territory, a wrathful guttural howl which retains some of the rasped edge of its parent genre but contributes massively to the depth and thoroughness of the recording. Lastly, the airier, dissonant guitars that explore the higher range of chords on the fretboard are balanced out with these substantial lower end riffs caught somewhere between the realms of black, death and doom metal, and the result is a fragile balance of both the accessibly heavy and sublime. What's more, the Finns have no qualms about the incorporation of piano segments, or cleaner guitars that help manifest emotional contrasts and climaxes through the track sounds fantastic. Frankly, when I popped the tape into the sketchy cassette deck (which broke after only a handful of listens), I didn't expect such a robust and pensive experience...

...which, granted, is not a massive leap in style from the 2009 full-length, but I got the impression that they were aiming for something marginally less ominous and far more philosophical this time out, a feat which is handily achieved by the time the smoke clears from Side A. W.A.I.L. is obscure and intelligent without the requisite technicality or toilet-bowl production values that might entail, and they are easily one of the better acts I've heard in terms of measuring off their constituent sub-genres into a fulfilling, consistent whole which rarely traipses across the paths of many other Finnish acts I've encountered. Ample variation without any sacrifice of their roots, and plenty of lyrics and explanations to ponder when you've immersed yourself into the musical side. It never hides its influence, which are firmly in the atmospheric 90s black/death camp (specifically the Scandinavian masters), but it also doesn't sound too directly like any one in particular. If compared to its predecessor, Wisdom Through Agony into Illumination and Lunacy, I might lean slightly in favor of that, but the difference in quality is about a hair's width, and it's worth a chance for anyone with a preference for thoughtful, atmospheric, shadowy songwriting.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (by the law of all; lawlessness)

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