It’s been quite a while since I’ve last posted anything at this rate, which I am quite annoyed with, since writing–for me, at least–is a really gratifying, cathartic process. The absence for which I owe this explanation is a result of me being buried under a mountain of university applications, final projects, exams and all manner of unholy dark things that make me want to go outside and play in traffic. However busy I am, I’ve still been listening to music in the interest of being at least somewhat mentally stable, and I’ve recently been listening to something that I felt the need to bring to your attention. I’ve actually pushed aside a good deal of work to write this review, but I don’t regret that in the slightest, being that the album in question–Wraithe’s upcoming release, Alone and Unloved–really fucking deserves some hype.
If you’re at all observant, you may have noticed that this album has not actually been released yet. I had the fortune of hearing it in advance of the release date (along with another well-known blogger/former curator of Metal Amino/current leader of Black Metal Amino, Kurios, who is also planning to review this album). Were it set to release before the end of the year, it would easily have made it onto my end-of-the-year list, which I have yet to write since I am a lazy piece of trash. However, that will have to wait until next December, because its release date is set for January 7th of 2017. Mark your calendars, DSBM addicts. You will not want to miss this one.
First, some background on the band.
Wraithe is a North Carolinian one-man DSBM (depressive suicidal black metal) project: the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Sul, who is wholly responsible for every aspect of Wraithe. All the instruments including the vocals, the mixing, the mastering and even the artwork (aside from the cover art of Alone and Unloved) were all handled by him alone, which is impressive in and of itself. More impressive is the fact that every Wraithe release aside from Alone and Unloved (which is set to release in early January, hence barely qualifying as an exception) came out in 2016, and all of them noticeably lack that watered-down feeling that often accompanies releases dropped in rapid succession of each other.
But this review isn’t about Wraithe’s entire discography; you can check out the community Wraithe favourite for that. This review will be about the final and most critical release of the project and of Sul’s musical career thus far.
In contrast to previous releases, which were created out of pure appreciation for this controversial genre, Alone and Unloved is far more personal in nature. Each song represents one chronological step on a dismally downwards spiralling staircase, and each level is darker than the last–but this staircase isn’t exactly made of polished marble. Imagine walking down a decaying metal fire escape fixed haphazardly along the cold walls of a deep, dark chasm, feeling that the stairs are becoming progressively more unstable and worn down, to the point where eventually they can no longer support your weight, and you fall helplessly into the dark pit. The only thing waiting for you at the bottom is death, of course. The inevitable ending of your pointless existence–suicide. Alone and Unloved is simply the unsettling story of a lonely plummet to rock bottom.
The album drifts in with a soft ambient soundscape on the track ‘Dog’, but doesn’t fail to swiftly remind us of its dark nature, with a distant venomous spoken interlude likening the experience to that of floating through repressed memories. In fact, ‘Dog’ was written about being unwanted and made to feel worthless. It’s a sonic manifestation of the belief that if you were gone, nobody would even notice, much less care. Interludes of the sort used at the beginning of this track are scattered throughout the album in a dismal patchwork–a morbid reflection, serving as a tight leash, not allowing the listener to drift away, no matter how disturbing it gets. ‘Dog’ is also an introduction of several other elements woven throughout the album’s 9 tracks: the use of ambient and soundscape, for example, which tastefully binds everything together from start to finish. This use of ambient is one of the very best attributes of Alone and Unloved; it adds just the right amount of dimension and depth demanded of such a heavy topic. The guitar work on this track is intelligently done. Certain riffs are actually written in a major key, which counterintuitively adds some manner of twisted perspective onto the song and really contributes to a confused and hopeless feel.
Belonging to Nothing
The transition into ‘Belonging to Nothing’, the second track, is thematically seamless, and its musical counterpart does a good job of representing that aspect. This is an important attribute, because it reflects how simple it is to slip into a mental state which, for many, is a point of no return: considering for the first time how things would be if you truly were gone. Reestablishing much of the same emotion portrayed in the first track, ‘Belonging to Nothing’ is contemplative in nature, employing repetitiveness and prominent basslines underneath various troubling sound clips emphasizing the critical change in thought patterns. This is quite easily one of the most distressing tracks the album has to offer, and perhaps the most musically interesting, as well, highlighted at intervals by Sul’s despairing vocals.
Suicide for Sanity
If ‘Belonging to Nothing’ is the first contemplation of the idea of suicide, ‘Suicide for Sanity’ represents the struggle between having the will to live and the urge to die; it is the idea of the confusion a human being goes through upon the realization that they don’t want to be alive anymore, and the anguish of the consciousness that there is something seriously wrong. ‘Suicide for Sanity’ is a song that is as tumultuous as this process. It is a track featuring a foundation of repetitive guitars, interwoven with deep folds of ambient in a ribbon-like consistency. Vocals on this track are used sparingly, draped over the other components at odd intervals, adding an almost multi-planar texture to what is already a captivating piece of music.
One of the album’s two singles, ‘Fuck You’ is a track far more inclined towards anger than sadness or depression. It is, however, not without its share of anguish. It centres around the concept of religion, and being in an environment where you’re left to deal with serious issues alone because the only response people would have is that God will fix all of your life’s problems if you would only devote yourself wholeheartedly to worshipping him. It is a higher intensity track, though not one that is without its changes of pace. The intensity of the beginning of the track declines to a more melodic and laid-back feel towards the middle–though this is accomplished in a sense that is reminiscent of giving up and allowing the anger to sink in to emphasize its return at the very ending of the track. Among the strongest points of ‘Fuck You’ are the basslines, which are written in a manner building a framework around the guitar work while being very interesting themselves at times when it would be most efficient. This, in combination with the vocals–which make great deliberate use of clipping for added intensity–and the spoken interludes, make this one of the most interesting tracks on the album.
The Third Interval
Taking a break from the focus on suicide, ‘The Third Interval’ is mainly about the depression that accompanies this calibre of mental decline. With its title alluding to a concept from Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’, the song bleeds into existence with the sound of a piano and depressing ambient soundscapes, developing slowly and gradually and sloping towards higher intensities as it progresses. The vocal performance on this track seems almost ghostlike in its distance at times–more noticeably so than on other tracks, and really serves as the defining feature. This track has a characteristic bleakness about it which really makes for a dark and accurate portrayal of the concept of the third interval; a concept which beautifully illustrates so many of the unthinkably horrible ways in which depression can destroy someone. Plath herself could attest to this, were she alive–she committed suicide not long after ‘The Bell Jar’ was published.
“I had the impression it wasn’t night and it wasn’t day, but some lurid third interval that had suddenly slipped between them and would never end.” -Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
The World is a Disappointment
The aptly-named second single of Alone and Unloved, ‘The World is a Disappointment’, somewhat follows the path of ‘The Third Interval’ in that it is not primarily centred around suicidal thoughts or behaviour; rather, it is a reflection on the ways that the world is presented as nothing but opportunity and encouragement when you’re young, but upon growing up, it dawns on you that the world is none of those things–the world is just a disappointment. It is a rather lifeless song right from the beginning, in the best of ways. It is not something that seems to reflect sorrow or grief at its extremes, but rather, an internalized chronic dullness that just becomes a part of who you are. This is the first point of the album where this hollowness really starts to become evident as the music transforms alongside the story, which makes the structure of the song itself the strongest feature simply because it is organized in such a way that it is able to express those sentiments effectively.
43 and Counting…
WIth the story having developed a lot over the previous few tracks, ’43 and Counting…’ returns to the topic of suicide. More specifically, it’s about dealing with sudden episodes of severe suicidal urges and the struggle of simply staying alive while the whole of your mind is screaming for you to end it all. The sheer confusion of this severe issue is portrayed excellently through the use of dissonance, which comes across in a really disorientating way. This entire song is really pulled together by the basslines and by the drums, which provide something to hold onto during what may otherwise come across as a maelstrom of swirling, self-destructive chaos, made up of notes without direction. Vocally, this is the best song on the album.
Drown the Sorrow
As the album draws to a close, the tracks begin to take on more and more conclusive overtones. ‘Drown the Sorrow’ is a portrait of desperate measures. More specifically, it deals with the problems that arise when you suffocate under the weight of your own mind in such a way that you turn to self-destructive behaviour–such as drinking–just to try and control the pain of it all, and how it actually only makes things worse. The song itself is of a drifting nature, beginning with the sound of rain and soft guitar melodies, gently swirling into place as a backdrop for tormented vocals. All the elements of this song really come together smoothly and without edges; the guitar work is especially captivating and truly defines this track’s characteristic sorrow.
The Silence Within Every Noise
The final song of the album: in which everything comes full circle, and our story comes to its unsettling end. It begins on a decisive note with basslines played authoritatively over a simplistic drum beat. Guitars are eventually introduced, following along. Soon after come the vocals, launching the track back into the same themes explored over the first two tracks: feeling worthless and unwanted, wondering just how things might be if you were to disappear–and noticing that nothing would change. The suffering becomes more and more obvious in the music as this realization becomes too much to handle, and the music sinks back into ambience–vividly, the story draws to a completion, and the music fades into lifeless silence. This song really manages to get across everything it is meant to portray in a very artistic manner; often, it is hard to achieve a balance between having interesting music and delivering such shocking and critical content in a way that conveys everything effectively, but there are no such complaints from me concerning this aspect in particular.
Alone and Unloved is a deep introspective look at a sharp decline far part the point of no return. Musically, it is a display of a highly skilled translation of emotion into sound, dotted with noticeable influence from Lifelover, Silencer and Bethlehem, with more than its share of strengths and very few weaknesses. The flow of the album itself follows a natural current, with intensity rising and declining in very intuitive and well-selected places. This album, marking the end of the project, is the ideal summation of everything that came before it. It is both an elegy and a paragon; it is more than worthy of carrying the legacy of Wraithe. I highly recommend this.
• • •
Belonging to Nothing
Suicide for Sanity
43 and Counting…
Drown the Sorrow