PICK OF THE WEEK: White Ward set fires on societal issues, violent power designs with ‘False Light’

Since the beginning of heavy metal’s lifespan, there has been suspicion over the government and those who control people and what they’re allowed to do. The medium has long lashed back as societal and political corruption and abuse by those in control, and as we work our way through the 2020s, those topics remain as rich as ever, and even more so now that some power structures are out of control.

For Ukrainian black metal band White Ward, who has seen the impacts of oppression and bloodshed firsthand, they were only too eager to visit that and other touchpoints that have ignited segments of society on their excellent third full-length “False Light.” If you’re already familiar with the band, you realize the black metal tag is merely a base as they spread beyond that to include elements of jazz, post rock, prog, and plenty of other colors. This album lyrically focuses on, to quote their bio, government-sanctioned murders, imminent environmental catastrophes, police brutality, domestic abuse, the psychic emptiness of cities, falsity of modern mainstream culture, and ill-effects of overconsumption. Those subjects are violently relevant, and the band—vocalist/bassist/lyricist Andrii Pechatkin , guitarist/vocalist Yurii Kazarian, guitarist Mykola Previr, drummer Ievgen Karamushko, sax player Dima Dudko—also takes inspiration from novel Intermezzo, by Ukrainian author Mykhailo Kotsubinsky, as well works by Kerouac and Jung. They also get contributions from other musicians including guest vocalists Vitaliy Havrilenko, Jay Gambit (Crowhurst, Execution Mask), Adam Symonds (Latitudes); trumpet player Jerome Burns; double bass player Yaroslav Tovarianskyi; and Mykola Lebed (Ghost Cities, Selma, etc.) on piano and Rhodes piano.

“Leviathan” is the beefy 13:17-long opener that properly sets the pace for what’s ahead. The playing punches through after noises swirl over the first minute, shrieks tearing your muscles apart. Sax sets in and creates added cloud coverage, elegant power unfurls its wings, and clean vocals bellow and make your blood rush. Sax gusts, the power crushes, and the final moments bleed into the earth. “Salt Paradise” is a severe changeup, an Americana-styled track with Gambit adding his gravelly, dusty voice to power this along and add even more rustic character to a highlight of this album. Sax blends in as the dust collects, then jazzy playing cools your wounds as sunburnt melodies pass. “Phoenix” runs 10:49 and starts with cosmic keys and breezy sax, the guitars lighting up and blinding your vision. Things tear open as the shrieks attack, and a breakdown hammers but also explodes with life. The vocals crush as the pace encircles, plastering with savagery and later into gothy waters, clean singing jolting your spine. The playing then melts into spacey keys, and a voice sample rightfully scolds us for what we’ve let happen to the earth. “Silence Circles” basks in keys and monstrous intensity, the sax adding some coolness to the volatile heat. Clean singing bellows as the ground ruptures, the guitars chomping at the bit, the drums crushing, and the elegant haze lingering and fading.

“Echoes in Eternity” is a brief instrumental with keys rolling in, the sax acting as an evening breeze, and jazzy basslines quivering, moving toward “Cronus” that’s another place for the band to take on unexpected shades. Gothy singing swells with darkness, filling your heart with pain, remaining balmy until the whole thing is torn apart. The playing soars as the drumming explodes, the doors coming off like they were devoured by a storm. The growls settle in and rupture, the atmospheric pressure builds dangerously, and the drums splatter as the final minute settle into the earth. The 14:43-long title track dawns in a synth/sax cloud cover feeling like the gentle moments of early morning. It’s not long until the playing comes apart and slaughters, unloading and taking apart worlds, often pulling back to let serenity into the room before the next attack. Snarling soloing takes over, then clean singing and sax enter, changing the temperature temporarily before everything is flattened again. Vicious growls strike as the land beneath you crumbles, keys emerge, and liturgical chants lead the track into the land of souls. Closer “Downfall” is an instrumental finish with keys gliding, sax echoing, and a voice playing with the origins of sin, the scourge of obedience, and the final drops leaving your mind wandering.

White Ward have been an ambitious band never completely tied to the tenets of black metal or any other metallic subgenre, and they flex that muscle further than ever before on “False Light.” This record is a jam packed 66 minutes that has so many twists and turns, avenues you never expect them to take, and a spirit that their peers in all of metal should envy. This band never fails to make every emotion inside you explode, and somehow, they manage to top themselves on the finest work of their career.

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://www.debemur-morti.com/en/12-eshop

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