As mentioned earlier today in the last installment of this growing list, I’m making an effort to catch up after a couple of missed days, and so we have two Parts today instead of one. For this one I’ve chosen tracks from two stand-out 2019 releases. To catch up yourselves on the choices that preceded these, follow this link.
I recognize that this first choice might be controversial, not because it’s a song from the latest Abigail Williams album, which rightly received plenty of acclaim in our own year-end lists as well as others, but because many of the people who embraced the album may have other favorite tracks that I didn’t choose.That’s the “problem” with an album like Walk Beyond the Dark. It’s so accomplished and so memorable that it makes the job of picking just one track, even for a list defined principally by “infectiousness”, a tough one.
As Andy Synn wrote in his NCS review, “[I]t wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that this album is not only a culmination of the band’s journey so far but also a consummation of all the different, sometimes disparate, elements which have been a part of their identity over the years, resulting in what may very well be their best work yet.”
As I was wrestling with which track to select, my compatriot DGR threw in his vote for “Sun and Moon“, commenting that its “middle section of bass guitar, drums and vocals building up is fucking awesome”. And he’s right, so right that “Sun and Moon” is where I settled, after giving serious consideration to “Ever So Bold” and “I Will Depart”.
That middle section is indeed compulsive, but not the only part of the song that digs its hooks into your head. The ringing guitars and potent bass-and-drum performances that open the song, along with the deep, somber vocals that accompany those flurries do that, too. And when Sorceron sends his voice skyward, it’s a riveting moment. Before long, the music rips and ravages in electrifying fashion before approaching that fine middle section — and after an initial crescendo it briefly subsides into cello-accented beauty.
Make no mistake, it’s an intense and often harrowing piece of music, and I suppose its emotional intensity is one other aspect, among all the others, that makes it so memorable.
White Ward’s Love Exchange Failure was another 2019 album that received significant attention in year-end lists, both here and across many other zines and sites. It was certainly one of my 2019 favorites. As much as I was enamored of 2017’s Futility Report, I found this new one still non-conformist, still surprising, still electrifying, but more cohesive and more powerful in evoking strong emotional responses, without at all repressing the adventurous spirit that drove the first album from beginning to end. In writing about it along with a track premiere, I got kind of carried away with what it made me imagine:
“Perhaps even more so than on the first album, venturing into the new one is like wandering unfamiliar, fog-shrouded urban streets at night, bombarded by raucous sounds and bright lights distorted by the mist, feeling both exhilarated and fearful, ducking into dingy alleyways to escape hulking shadows pregnant with violence, or to search for something more than the cold indifference of glazed eyes in emaciated figures that appear like wraiths as they pass under the street lights and then vanish again, and encountering the fleeting sounds of jazz from open doorways as you hurry along, wondering what the next bend in your crooked path will reveal.”
For a more complete and maybe less impressionistic assessment of the album, take a look at Andy Synn‘s review, which he concluded by writing: “I can honestly say that I’ve encountered very few albums this year simultaneously as scintillating and as soothing, as abrasive and immersive, as this one.”
A song as long as the album’s title track might seem a peculiar choice for a “most infectious” list, but it really stuck in my head from the very first listen, in part because of the impression made in its opening, which isn’t metal at all. White Ward lead us gently and seductively into the dark world they’re creating with a slow, haunting piano melody and a sultry saxophone that drifts like smoke. The noirish jazz stylings of those opening minutes are dreamlike, but the backing ambient sounds nevertheless create an ominous feeling.
The dreamlike sensation of the music doesn’t completely disappear even when the band launch into an electrifying black metal tirade of rampant drumming, delirious riffing, and shrieking vocals; there’s a wondrous gleam in the guitar melody that persists through the violence, and the piano returns in somber fashion. After the ebb comes another flow — of pounding heaviness and wrenching guitar and vocal intensity. Pain becomes a bright and blinding light; there is a sense of hopelessness even as the music swells in grandeur and the guitars flicker and flash. But the solos that are still to come are spectacular, and perhaps lend a feeling of uplift — though the haunting dream returns to claim us again at the end.