PICK OF THE WEEK: ‘The Ladder’ shows Palace of Worms’ dark creativity is climbing upward

BalanUnbeknownst to me before starting to write this, we’re in the middle of a theme week. Bands and artists that have taken sounds and expanded them beyond normal boundaries have made up our coverage this week. We cap off with a new record from a project that’s long haunted us and continues to do so with a stunning new record we knew would be a pick of the week since taking a first listen.

Palace of Worms, the project of multi-instrumentalist Balan, never has been a conventional vessel. Ever since the project got started nearly a decade ago, and upon the release of the first album “The Forgotten,” Balan has pushed himself to see exactly what his art has to offer. Steadfastly grounded in black metal, there is plenty more that he offers in his work and on the stunning third Palace of Worms record “The Ladder” (out on Broken Limbs). You’ve probably read a little about this album, maybe even heard the whole thing streaming, and it’s one of those that justifies the ocean of credit it’s receiving. It’s heavy, heart-crushing, captivating, dark, and gorgeous all at the same time, a true accomplishment for an artist and band already highly regarded for out-of-the box thinking and creating.

GZ Jacket TemplateOn “The Ladder,” we get seven tracks spread out over 46:30, a well-portioned assault that fills your needs but also leaves a little room for you wanting more. Balan has a few guests on this record, fellow members of the Bay Area music scene, with Bezaelith (Lotus Thief) adding backing vocals on two tracks; Ephemeral Domignostika (Mastery, Pale Chalice) offering soloing on two cuts; and Mattia Alagna (Abstracter, Atrament) providing vocals/lyrics on “Wreathe.” Their contributions are mighty, but Balan’s vision ultimately is what’s on display here, and it is constantly stimulating and unpredictable as it plays out. He’s one of the most gifted creators in the black metal scene, something he proves again here.

“In the Twilight Divide” opens the record with some classical-style guitars traipsing over the chaos before strong melodies and a cold breeze bust through. Balan roars with a fury before serenity lands, with Bezaelith lending her vocal melodies to the texture. The track bleeds heavily again moments later, with Balan, practically kicking himself, wailing, “Kidding myself to feel again,” as the track rambles over pain and regret. “From the Ash” bursts open, rupturing veins and trickling into gothic melodies. The track is fierce and gazey, with some psychedelic moments worked into the mix, speaking under the din, with Domignostika’s guitars lighting the night on fire. “Nightworld” starts flooding, with a dark, doomy atmosphere taking hold, deep growls carving away, and a slow-driving pace leaving marks. The guitars start to chill, as the pace kicks up, feeling slightly rock-oriented with Balan poking, “Cannot escape you, cannot reason with you.” Bezaelith’s haunting calls then return before the song folds into darkness. “An Innate Sickness” is a dream-inducing interlude complete with murky synth, eerie sounds swirling, and an intense fog bringing on the strangeness.

“Strange Constellations” runs a lofty 12:13, slipping into a dizzying melody that glides through liquid, sounding quiet and calm for the first minutes. Then the guitars cut things open, with the drums rolling hard, and monstrous growls delivering blows. “The stage is set for annihilation!” Balan howls, as a crazed solo rips out of nowhere, again courtesy of Domignostika, before slipping back under the shadows again, as the pace calms and sends off waves. Whispers rumble before the song ruptures again, delivering carnage while the playing gets warbly, and things end in the weird. “Wreathe” is a very different song, with Alagna driving the vocals, singing above the psychedelic guitars and post-rock gothiness. Balan’s cries eventually can be heard in the background right before the song slips away. This is a pretty refreshing change of pace and another side of the band’s personality. Closer “Ephemeral Blues” is a nice summation of everything we’ve heard to this point, with black metal-style melodies running and the tempo chugging dangerously. The growls are pointed and grim, with the scars of, “Say goodbye to this unfortunate life,” letting the negativity and sadness soak in, as the final moments are immersed in corrosion.

“The Ladder” is a huge leap ahead for Palace of Worms, a record that should punish and mesmerize at the same time. Palace of Worms absolutely shine on this third full-length effort, and their might and will to dream keep the artistic juices flowing, and the listener’s imagination taking each leap and bound with the music. This is Balan’s finest hour.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/tattooedinworms/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.brokenlimbsrecordings.net/#!store/azhdm/products/blr076-palace-of-worms-the-ladder-lp

For more on the label, go here: http://brokenlimbsrecordings.net/

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