White Ward: ‘False Light’ Review

The album cover for ‘False Light’

Ukrainian band White Ward are the authors of the recently released album ‘False Light’. The band’s third full-length record blends a variety of sounds, but most notable is the combination of black metal and blackgaze with saxophone-driven jazz. In recent years, several rock and metal bands have strayed from the guitar/drum/bass formula in favor of non-conventional rock instruments. Oftentimes this can feel like a gimmick, but when done well, it’s one of my favorite things in the genre. Bands such as Ne Obliviscaris, Rivers of Nihil, and Shade Empire are some of the finest examples of using these instruments within the confines of extreme metal. Now White Ward have gotten into the mix, and they waste no time introducing us to this sound in the opening track, and lead single, ‘Leviathan’.

In no time at all, ‘Leviathan’ immerses the listener in the delightful mixture of blast beats and saxophone. It hardly even feels like a contrast. The saxophone fits in as smoothly as a guitar solo. And on that topic, the melodic guitar solos throughout this track are so tasteful, and a fantastic way of breaking up the harshness. Midway through this beast of a song, most of the instruments fade away and we’re treated to a slow jazz section. Perhaps that sentence isn’t the most uncommon thing to hear in the world of prog, but it feels different here. Like it’s the natural progression of the song to slow way down before exploding back into black metal. ‘Leviathan’ isn’t my favorite track on the album, but at 13 minutes it may be the perfect preview for what the rest of ‘False Light’ has to offer.

‘Salt Paradise’ is one of the few songs on the album that departs from White Ward’s already unique style. With mostly acoustic guitar and clean singing, it almost has the feel of an interlude track, apart from the fact that it’s 5 minutes long. Though oddly placed in the album’s track list, it’s a pleasant listen that after a few times going through the album stood out through its simplicity.

Dark synths kick off the third song, ‘Phoenix’. The first two minutes are a slow buildup, methodically introducing the saxophone, and then guitars, before returning to the black metal sound established in the opening track. The last four minutes of the song are my favorite on the whole album, groovy drums, brutal growls, and surprisingly, no saxophone. Of the bands that use these non-conventional instruments in extreme metal, the thing that is most impressive to me is when their song-writing stands out in the absence of that instrument. ‘Phoenix’ is where White Ward proved to me they can do just that.

‘Silence Circles’ has much less build-up, opting instead to whip back and forth between smooth synths, saxophone sections, doomy growls, and hefty drum beats. About midway through the song, the two styles merge seamlessly. This is followed by the brief track ‘Echoes in Eternity,’ which heavily incorporates the aforementioned synths. Adding another dynamic to an album packed with different moods and sounds.

‘Echoes in Eternity’, comes next, and starts as a noir jazz track, before distorting into eerie synths. It works well as an interlude and leads into one of the strongest songs on the album. ‘Cronus’ begins with a dose of clean singing, which admittedly is not my favorite aspect of ‘False Light.’ But it’s used sparingly throughout the album and here it works. Where the track shines is in the explosion of growls, saxophone, and some of the crunchiest riffs you’ll hear. A shorter than average runtime for this album makes ‘Cronus’ feel tighter than any other song on the album. It’s been on repeat for me since it was released, and is hands down one of my favorite tracks of the year.

The 14-minute title track is the penultimate on ‘False Light,’ and the final full-length song. It follows a similar structure as the opener, harsh black metal at the beginning and end, with a sharp transition into soothing jazz in the middle. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s as memorable here as it is in other points of the album. But the song-writing is still solid, saxophone and vocal melodies sailing against the blast beats and heavy riffage.

With the release of ‘False Light,’ White Ward have cemented themselves firmly at the top of a lot of album of the year lists. And amongst extreme metal bands who use non-conventional instruments, they are one of the better examples in recent years.

Where they could’ve easily fallen into an overreliance on the saxophone, White Ward instead allowed their song-writing to shine, and the many dynamics presented leave this record as one of the strongest to come out in 2022.

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