PICK OF THE WEEK: White Ward mix cold jazzy sentiment with black metal on ‘Love Exchange Failure’

Compassion and concern for one another aren’t really things you find on most metal records. Especially ones that are heavy as hell. But it’s worth examining because we live in an era where we are busy and distracted and not terribly open to other people. Stress and mental wounds are rarely healing, and that can affect the way we treat one another.

These things were rolling around the brains of Ukrainian black metal band White Ward as they approached their second record “Love Exchange Failure,” their second overall. They thought about how involved our lives have become, how many people have lost the ability to love (not sexually, necessarily) other people, and how that affects us mentally. It’s a heavy thing to mull, and when you think of how our lives have devolved, especially socially, the idea is worth considering because we’re likely all guilty. That is why the band named the record “Love Exchange Failure” because it observes people using more hatred than love when dealing with other people. Using this record, that is a seven track, 67-minute epic, lets the band also apply different sounds and textures to their atmospheric black metal, another way in which the band—vocalist Andrii Mai, guitarists Yuriy Kazaryan and Mykola Jack, bassist Andrey Pechatkin, drummer Yevhenii Karamushko—digs into your mind and makes you think of things in ways you maybe haven’t before. They’re joined by assorted special guests to unfurl this album that is sobering and deeply emotional, and it might take a few listens to fully absorb all that’s here.

The title track starts the album with the sounds of urban life as sirens cry in the distance before keys and sax meet up to add to the ambiance. Three minutes in, the song explodes as Mai’s vocals rip out, and emotional trauma is spread heavily. Calm later returns as the music breezes and keys drop, and then the fires ignite anew, with wrenching vocals and pulsing drums. The track continues to punish as guitars and drums charge, but then things are swallowed into a jazzy mist as the song fades into the night. “Poisonous Flowers of Violence” has gazey dripping that’s sets the mood before things fully erupt. Melodic riffs and spiraling playing join with Mai’s harsh cries, with the song utterly waylaying with power. Gruff growls give off a guttural jolt before rain picks up, and the soft sax arrives again. Guitars return to inject some electricity again, while the back end of the song mixes keys, sax, and woodwinds, ending in serenity. “Dead Heart Confession” has dark guitars trickling, as quotes from Jeffrey Dahmer slip behind, sending chills, before everything is wrecked. Growls decimate as the classic metal backing brings a weird sense of nostalgia, while the leads rush through a thunderstorm. The seas calm while sax reverberates, the bass bends, and the song ruptures all over. From there, the playing swells again, growls split the senses, and the song floats away into the arms of shadows.

“Shelter” is an instrumental track and one of the shortest here, clocking in at 5:41. Keys and whispers unite before the body crumbles and noise begins to spread, making everything beneath it burst. Later on, chimes ring on as the music hovers, and then it’s into “No Cure For Pain” that stays with the delicacy. The track takes time to get moving as a mood is established, and at about 3:35, the playing get shredded with growls smashing and the tempo destroying. Sounds mash into an epic solo that again brings back the feelings of metal’s glory years before the hammers drop all over again, and the vocals pelt the flesh. Sax playing mixes in with the thrashing as the group joins up in rousing “ah-ah” calls, and deep crooning from Vitality Gavrilenko goes for the chest before the shrapnel is spewed all over again. “Surfaces and Depths” is very different but really rewarding, a true example of the band’s flexibility. Keys set the tone, as things head into jazzy waters again, and Renata Kazhan lends her smoky voice to the track, making it really stand out. “We are all doomed, so ease your prayers,” she urges, as the song pushes into the lonesome night. Sax swims through before a mighty deluge strikes at the end, taking the song into its resting place. Closer “Uncanny Delusions” also brings different winds, as clean guitars flow generously, and vocals from Ivan Kozakevych (with his thick Ukrainian accent) add a brassy, elegant feel to the song. Eventually things blow apart, and the metallic attack arrives, complete with Mai’s wrenching screams. The meaty mashing always melds back with shadowy playing, feeling like a fog is taking you to a haunted place. All of that disappears like a spirit into a strange stretch of old-timey music and disarming crying that leaves you chilled to the bone.

White Ward is a band like few others who combine savage blackness with smooth waters, mixing so many moods and emotions that you never can get too comfortable. “Love Exchange System” also is a record that, thematically, sets itself apart from so many other extreme music albums and the bands that play them. This is a human record centered on concern and compassion, and the music will stay with me into the colder months and the years beyond. It’s that impactful.

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

To buy the album (North America), go here: https://debemurmorti.aisamerch.com/

Or here (Europe): https://debemurmorti.aisamerch.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.debemur-morti.com/en/