The genre term “Cascadian black metal”, most often used with reference to bands such as Wolves in the Throne Room and Agalloch, seems to be gaining in popularity. Some purists don’t like it because it’s a geographic reference instead of a description of the music and because it’s both over-inclusive and under-inclusive, i.e., there are black metal bands from “Cascadia” who don’t sound like WITTR or Agalloch and don’t share their philosophical perspective, and there are bands outside Cascadia who do.
Personally, I don’t think about this debate too much, despite the fact that I live in “Cascadia”. Consciously or not, I’m starting to think of a certain style of black metal as “Cascadian”, regardless of where the band is located and regardless of whether they have a nature-centric philosophy, just because it’s a convenient shorthand for a certain kind of sound.
To me, it stands for a style of music that incorporates not only traditional black metal instrumentation and vocals but also melodic, “post metal” ambience, prog-metal instrumentals, or even stoner-type shoe-gazing jams. So, for example, I think of San Francisco’s deafheaven as playing Cascadian black metal, even though they’re not from the Pacific Northwest and probably wouldn’t label themselves that way.
The music of Wildernessking reminds me of deafheaven’s music and, to a lesser extent, that of WITTR and Agalloch — and I’d throw in Krallice, Cormorant, and Enslaved for good measure. But Wildernessking isn’t from anywhere remotely near Cascadia. They’re from Cape Town, South Africa, and they’re off to a brilliant start.
The Writing of Gods In the Sand is this band’s first album, but you wouldn’t know it. In its song construction, in its performance, in its musical vision, it’s a surprisingly mature and self-assured work. The fusing of diverse genres that occurs so naturally in each song reflects a sophisticated recognition that these styles of music not only can work together, but that harnessing them together creates a uniquely effective expression of power and emotion, a blending of light and dark, soft and hard, beauty and voraciousness.
Recognizing that these styles of music work together well and turning that conception into reality are, of course, two very different things. You get the sense that Wildernessking do such a good job making their vision into living, breathing music because they love all the styles that they weave together. You get the sense that if they wanted to, they could be a fine post-rock band, a very good expositor of Opeth-style prog, or a take-no-prisoners black metal band who relish hosing down listeners with an engulfing acid blast. But what they want to be, and what they are, is a band who get to expresses their feel for, and their faith in, all of that.
They do wear their hearts on their sleeves. No one would mistake the music for the frigid blasphemies of Nordic black metal. There are too many ringing, chiming guitars, too many rock beats and proggy drum progressions, too many passages where the sonic blast falls away and a subdued, entrancing melody emerges through isolated instruments to haunt the listener’s memory.
The clean, rippling guitar notes and solitary bass tones that begin and end the album’s closer, “Infinity”, would be out of place. So would the dual-guitar harmony that begins “River”. So would the tumbling bass-and-drum break that happens near the middle of “Discovery” or the fleeting keyboard notes near the end of the same song. Those and a dozen other small moments here and there — moments that make the music so affecting — would be persona non grata in the misanthropic wastelands inhabited by infernal bands such as 1349.
Yet the music has one taloned foot in that blasted soil, too, because along with the sweeping post-rock soundscapes you also get bassist Keenan Oakes’ shrieking vocals, which will strip the paint from walls; they’re both wounded and wounding. You get gut-churning double-bass and militaristic blast-beats from drummer Jason Jardim (whose multifaceted performance is one of this album’s real gems), and you get massive walls of distorted guitar noise and tremolo drilling from Dylan Viljoen and Jesse Navarre Vos, whose mastery of both beauty and the beast in their guitar playing is a sweet thing to behold.
Kvlt they may not be, but this foursome are definitely on to something here. Whether they can succeed in seizing imaginations around the world from their relatively remote corner of the world remains to be seen, but what they’re doing deserves attention and respect. So if you like what you hear, spread the word.
As usual, I want to play some music. I picked two songs: “Utopia”, because I’m a sucker for the bass intro and because the rest of the song is fucken cool, too; and “Surrender”, because it may be the most openly emotional piece on the album. Even if it’s possibly the least black-metal inflected, “Surrender” is still a plenty intense song.
“Utopia”[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Wildernessking-04-Utopia.mp3|titles=Wildernessking – Utopia]
“Surrender”[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Wildernessking-05-Surrender.mp3|titles=Wildernessking – Surrender]
Wildernessking have a Bandcamp page where both “Utopia” and the riveting opening song “Rubicon” can be downloaded for free, and where you can find links for ordering the album on CD and vinyl from Antithetic Records. Last I checked, the entire album is still streaming at Lurker’s Path.
Antithetic is also running a Kickstarter-style fundraiser to help finance production of a double LP vinyl edition of the album, with a variety of packages as a reward for donations (including digital downloads and CDs). The link for that is here. Wildernessking is building an official site, and in the meantime you can follow them via Facebook: