I haven’t written a review in almost a month. The list of releases I want to write about has now grown so long that I know I’ll never succeed in completing all of them. And yet when I saw that Wildernessking released The Devil Within yesterday, I immediately bought a download of the EP, listened to it repeatedly, and wrote what you’re about to read.
I suppose this impulsiveness derived in part from the soft spot I have for bands located in places far from the biggest global markets for metal, and so remote that touring beyond a few cities is almost impossible for most bands. Cape Town, South Africa, is one such place. But mainly it’s because I had such high expectations for the music based on what Wildernessking have done before.
First came their 2012 debut album, The Writing of Gods In the Sand (which became the source of one of our Most Infectious Extreme Metal Songs of 2012). To steal words from my own review, it bound together styles from a variety of genres (including black metal, post-metal, and Enslaved-style prog) to create “a uniquely effective expression of power and emotion, a blending of light and dark, soft and hard, beauty and voraciousness.”
Then came a follow-on EP, …And the Night Swept Us Away (reviewed here), which I perceived as one long, panoramic song divided into three parts, not because it was written that way but because it worked that way as a musical journey. It confirmed that Wildernessking were not a flash in the pan — they were here to stay, each new release worth pouncing on without delay.
The new EP, like the last, consists of three songs, the first two about four-and-a-half minutes long, the last one over 10 minutes. And for most of the EP’s duration, it’s a raging storm.
“Lurker” is uncomfortable music, but nonetheless gripping. The discordant electronic noises in the intro turn out to be a signal of what’s coming — an eruption of urgent, intense, cutting riffs that rise and fall over thundering, blasting drums and echoing shrieks that etch the lyrics like acid on a metal plate. An air of ominous threat and unavoidable doom pervades the music; Wildernessking lash the listener with a firm whip hand.
“Flesh” is a more rocking and rolling song, a more melodic piece — but it rocks hard, driven by galvanizing riffs and rambunctious drums that move like an avalanche, and those paint-pealing vocals will leave scars on your headbanging face.
As compelling as the first two tracks are, the true prize of this EP comes in that long last song, the title track. For much of its duration, listening is like being driven by gale winds and an unforgiving rain through a forest of thorns. The howling, distorted riff-torrents and transfixing drum patterns push hard and fast, but that stormfront carries an elusive melody that you want to cling to when it surfaces, like shelter in the storm.
You know that in a 10-minute song there will be a change somewhere, and in this one it comes at about the 6:00 mark. The storm subsides, the onslaught replaced by an almost lilting, layered guitar melody, like brief rays of light piercing the clouds as the front moves through. It’s a reminder, in an EP more steeped in ferocity and black ‘n’ roll and less given to the band’s progressive and post-metal inclinations, that they are a multi-faceted group. But of course the intensity begins to build again, the double-bass thunder and the guitar lightning unleashed once more before everything tapers off at the end.
It’s getting hard to predict where this band will go with their music. They’ve already proven they have the talent to effectively integrate strains of progressive music, post-metal stylings, and even folk embellishments into their black metal framework. I didn’t know where they would go with the new EP; the uncertainty was part of why I was so eager to hear it. But I found out — The Devil Within is a dark, driving force of nature, shot through with high-voltage energy. Yet the band have an undeniable melodic sensibility, and that still comes through, too. It’s what makes these songs so memorable.
A couple more observations before I finish. First, although I don’t pretend to be an expert in production techniques, I think the sound of this EP hits the sweet spot for this kind of music. It’s not the type of sound I’d characterize as “raw and filthy” (because the music is too nuanced to be drowned in a radioactive haze), but it’s not crisp and shiny either. There’s just enough distortion in the guitars, the drums sound very natural, and the shrieking vocals are pushed back a few steps in the mix so that they add a razor’s edge without becoming domineering.
Second, the drum performance is so damned strong! It’s fun running through these songs on subsequent listens while doing nothing but paying particular attention to what the drummer is doing.
So there you have it: Three releases into their young career, and Wildernessking have turned out yet another winner and yet another reason to pounce on each new thing they do without delay.
The Devil Within is available on Bandcamp for $5 via the link below.