(For the March 2020 edition of The Synn Report, Andy Synn has combined reviews and streams of all the releases by the Australian black metal band Wardaemonic, including their newest album Acts of Repentance, which was released by Transcending Obscurity Records on March 20th.)
Recommended for fans of: Immortal, Mayhem, 1349
From its humble beginnings in the streets and suburbs of Norway, Black Metal has stretched its eldritch tendrils far and wide, resulting in new cults and covens springing up all over the world.
There is, perhaps, no better example of how the genre has metastasised and infected practically every corner of the globe than Wardaemonic, who, despite hailing from the Western coast of Australia – about as far, both in distance and climate, from the Norwegian fjords as it’s possible to get – have spent the last fifteen years establishing their own place in the ever-growing legacy of Black Metal.
The group’s fourth (and possibly finest) album, Acts of Repentance, was released just over a week ago, so now seemed like the perfect time to bring their work to a wider audience.
THROUGH THE DANK PALE GRAVELANDS – 2006
As is the case with… well, most Black Metal bands really… Wardaemonic’s debut was a much more primal and primitive affair than the more advanced beast which the group would go on to become.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check it out, however, especially if you’re in the mood for some raw and unashamed Immortal worship in the vein of Battles in the North/Blizzard Beasts.
Take “Ancient Gate”, for example, which is just under five minutes of nearly unrelenting tremolo and blastbeats, topped off with some suitably grim, croaking vocals.
And then there’s the title track, whose approach is largely similar, but which also finds time for some moments of moody, bass-driven meditation and icy, gleaming melody too.
Both these tracks also seem to owe a fair debt to early Mayhem too, a feeling which only intensifies during the scything assault of “Voice from the Winds” and “The Return of Darker Ages”, with the latter especially showing off a similarly ragged and ravenous sense of unbound aggression (even as it indulges, right near the end, in a bit of subtle melody and shameless shreddery).
One thing you will likely notice, and hopefully approve of, is that while the band’s sound at this point isn’t the most complex, they still make sure to give the bass a prominent place in the mix (unlike many of their peers who, even now, continue to neglect the low end).
The bass is especially prominent, to my ears at least, during “Winds of Hate”, whose torrential downpour of death and despair culminates in a gorgeously gloomy, depressively doomy, finale, as well as the grisly “Damned Is Eternity”, where the racing snare and searing trem-work are counterbalanced by some surprisingly nuanced four-stringed flair.
The punishing pandemonium of “Darkness Hate Triumph” features some of the heaviest and most intense sounds on the entire record (a sure sign of things to come), after which “Death’s Winter Serenade” (the album’s true closer) manages to fill its over nine-minute run-time with a blend of stripped-down, streamlined Black Metal fury and moody melodic melancholy which, while far from original, still makes for a riveting listening experience.
ECHOES OF AGELESS FLAMES – 2010
By the time of their second album the band had clearly developed in several drastic ways, showcasing a bigger, bolder sound and a willingness to test their own creative boundaries while still staying true (or should that be “trve”?) to the tenets of Black Metal as laid down by their progenitors.
This is immediately apparent in the tracklisting, as the album is, in essence, split into two halves, the first comprising the five-part “Vigil Tenebre” suite, beginning with “Vigil Tenebre Pt. I – The Precepts of Salvation”, which immediately demonstrates how the band’s music has developed, with a punchier drum sound, clearer (though still cadaverous) vocals, and a more haunting sense of atmosphere and despondent melody reminiscent of Blaze of Perdition.
As a result, by the time part II, “Thrones of Possession” explodes into life the listener should be fully prepared for the onslaught which follows, as the more refined production really brings out the underlying heaviness and sheer intensity in the band’s music while also allowing their more menacing and melodic moments space to shine even more brightly (and bleakly).
And while both “Thrones of Possession” and its equally fearsome follow-up, “From the Ancient Depths”, continue to pay tribute to the seminal savagery of Immortal, you can also start to hear the band evolving and developing the agile riffing style and penchant for piercing lead melodies that would, eventually, become a signature part of their style.
Truth be told, the “Vigil Tenebre” section of the album ends with slightly less bang (neither “Dark Water’s Confines” or “Fragments of Dissolution” quite manage to hit the same high notes as the previous tracks), but thankfully the next track, “Echoes of Ageless Flames”, is an absolute monster, featuring some of the most voracious drumming and viscerally powerful guitar work on the entire record.
“Aons of Perdition” is just as punishing, though its high point is, arguably, its hideously hypnotic finale, which serves almost as a balm for the soul (as well as the ears) following the track’s near ceaseless barrage of blastbeats.
“Paths to Silence”, the album’s final track (not counting the bonus reworking of the Dead Can Dance classic “Summoning of the Muse” which accompanies most versions of the record), is the one song which truly hints at where the band’s future ultimately lay, employing more intricately layered interplay between the guitars, more crisp, creative drum work, and a greater sense of vision and ambition (not least in the epic interweaving of harsh and clean vocals), without sacrificing an ounce of integrity or intensity in the process.
PROCLAMATION – 2013
Despite being “only” an EP, Proclamation could/should be considered the band’s true rebirth as, following a small but significant shift in line-up, the version of Wardaemonic which created these three tracks is a much heavier, much more powerful, beast than its previous incarnation.
Everything about this release is significantly nastier, and gnarlier, than what we’ve heard from the band before, with a pseudo-Death Metal feel to some of the riffs which recalls Mayhem’s own Grand Declaration of War, albeit delivered in what might just be an even wilder, more blast-fuelled manner.
“Cursed In a Thousand Tongues”, for example, is riffier, and more aggressive, than anything off either of the two previous albums, with a vocal delivery which exchanges the grumbling grimness of the band’s earlier years for a breathtaking banshee howl of fury.
“Towards the Blessed Relic” continues down the same pulverising path, bombarding the listener with riff after riff after riff, while also throwing in a few passages of bone-grinding groove or thrashy belligerence reminiscent of Impiety at their Slayer-riffic best.
Concluding with the Belphegor-esque bombardment of blistering blastbeats and barbed-wire tremolo that is “The Light Reviled”, Proclamation signalled that this was not just a band reborn, but a band even hungrier, and even heavier, than ever.
OBSEQUIUM – 2015
If Proclamation was the band’s rebirth, then Obsequium is the sound of them finally hitting their stride, taking the ramped-up aggression and electrifying intensity of the EP and shrouding it in an even darker and more desolate atmosphere (without falling afoul of the tricks and tropes of “Atmospheric” Black Metal) that raises the band’s game to a whole new level.
Opener “Drowning in Seas of Wretchedness” features some of the sharpest, most incisive riffing and caustic, cathartic vocals which the band have ever recorded, and is delivered with the sort of raging, rapid-fire fury that makes the song’s seven-and-a-half minutes fly by in the blink of a burning eye.
“Endless War” is, if possible, even nastier. Whether it’s blasting the listener into submission or grinding them down with a rolling avalanche of churning riffs and hammering kicks, it’s just a devastatingly heavy track, and its minor moments of melodic menace only serve to enhance the song’s heaviness.
“Temple of Rats” hits the same hellish high notes as Dark Funeral and Belphegor at their very best, fusing some devilishly delicious hooks and morbidly malicious melody with an undercurrent of truly devastating percussive power, after which “Coronation” doubles down on the melodic menace and evil atmosphere in scintillating style without neglecting the thunderous heaviness which has become such a definitive part of the band’s sound.
The ominous, atmosphere-heavy strains of “To the Bitter End” provide a temporary breather amidst all the blazing chaos and blood-drenched catharsis, before the finger-shredding riffs and strangling, strychnine-laced tremolo melodies of “Summon the Daemon” plunge everything back into the red once more, while also finding time for a mid-song break of moody minimalism and some impressively layered and intricate guitar-and-bass work.
The titanic title track somehow finds an even deeper, even darker, well of aggression and anguish for the band to tap into, delivering the sort of power and intensity that would leave genre stalwarts like Marduk and Enthroned positively green with envy while also hitting new heights of epic extravagance and bone-chilling atmosphere along the way, ending the album on a truly triumphant (and terrifying) note.
ACTS OF REPENTANCE – 2020
Simultaneously more focussed yet also more elaborate in nature, Acts of Repentance showcases a band in full control of all their faculties, more than willing (and able) to pare things back and slow things down in order to allow the music to breathe and simmer at its own pace but also unafraid to completely cut loose with some of the most technical riff work and frantic, complex percussion of their career.
Case in point, frenzied opener “Act I -Introspection” goes straight for the jugular, and the increasingly savage and scalding vocals, coupled to an even heavier, harder-edged guitar tone, finds the band erring towards a more abrasive “Blackened Death Metal” approach equally reminiscent of bands like Azarath and Otargos as it is Dark Funeral and 1349.
More importantly, however, although these comparisons remain valid, and should give prospective listeners some idea of what to expect from this album, tracks like “Introspection” and “Act II – Admission” truly feel like Wardaemonic are coming into their own, achieving a balance between melody, atmosphere, and unrelenting aggression – as well as a clarity of vision – which elevates their sound into something truly special.
Extra credit must also be given to the bass and drums which play major roles in developing the band’s distinct take on the Black Metal fundamentals, with “Admission” in particular showing off some impressively prominent and imposing bass work as well as some creative percussive patterns that wouldn’t sound entirely out of place on the next Kriegsmaschine album.
At just over twelve minutes “Act III – Castigation” is both the longest and most labyrinthine track on the album, and finds the band dabbling in the sort of scintillating, pseudo-melodic dissonance which their distant cousins in the Icelandic scene have made so famous, while also giving the drums even more room to explore a variety of rhythmic tones and textures.
Fittingly, as the centrepiece to what might just be the band’s magnum opus, “Castigation” takes full advantage of its extensive run time to take the listener on a harrowing, heart-stopping journey, moving from ominous, doom-laden density to rampaging, blast-driven fury, from choking atmosphere to relentless extremity, without hesitation or remorse.
“Act IV – Sufferance” initially begins its life as something much moodier and more melodically inclined than the rest of the album, and while it soon picks up into something much heavier, and much angrier, it never loses that sense of subtlety and nuance, layered as it is with mournfully majestic clean vocals and eerie, evocative lead parts, all of which serve only to expand the band’s creative palette without lessening their crushing impact.
Concluding with “Act V – Repentance”, which offers up eight minutes of haunting menace, hypnotic melody, and utterly unrepentant metallic force (as well as some subtly, and surprisingly, proggy embellishments), there’s no doubt in my mind that Acts of Repentance marks Wardaemonic’s long-awaited ascendancy into the upper echelons of Black Metal.
Not only that, but it even hints that the band’s gleaming star still has further, and higher, to rise, and, as fantastic as this album is, we may very well not yet have seen the full scope of what this group are capable of.