(This is the fourth installment in a seven-album review orgy by our man DGR, who is attempting to free his mind for year-end season by clearing away a backlog of write-ups for albums he has enjoyed in 2020. We’ve been running these on consecutive days — except we missed Friday — and today’s subject is a debut album released last spring via Nuclear Blast by the Spanish band White Stones.)
The March 13, 2020 album Kuarahy by the band White Stones is such a fascinating release for a number of reasons. This far out from its release, it’s been interesting to see how things have played out for the group’s debut release via Nuclear Blast. On the homefront, we covered the music videos in the lead-up to the debut of this project led by Martin Mendez (of Opeth bassist fame), but upon full release it kind of full off the site’s radar. We’ll rectify that here.
This is a record I’ve listened to a multitude of times since its release, and by the end of multiple listening sections and a seven-month writing delay it remains stubbornly ‘interesting’, in part because what keeps grabbing me seems to nebulous. Every time I think I have a hold on it, it wriggles away and moves just slightly out of vision again. It’s a bizarre creature that seems to exist permanently ‘elsewhere’, even though at first glance it never seems to garner much more than ‘that’s some prog-death music alright’.
I still can’t tell whether most of this will be a written struggle to explain what captured my interest and why I consistently look at it, whether it is smarter than me or if I’m staring into an abyss that simply isn’t ‘present’, as if attempting to quantum observe a cohesive thought into focus.
The album’s imagery and the band photos stand firmly in contrast with what you might expect from a prog-death band, presenting a group who appear remarkably sophisticated for the sort of discordant and angular music held within. Intricacy abounds on Kuarahy, which is also not something you’d normally expect as a descriptor for a death metal disc, yet the White Stones crew have gone for a tightly woven and angular approach to their music. It’s not hard to spot some Opeth bleed-through, given Martin Mendez‘ lead role in the band, but it’s not as prominent as you might expect either. You’ll just hear it in certain passages as the band rumbles along every once in a while, forgetting for a few measures the dissonant journey you took to get there and instead feeling like you’ve become lost in some of the heavier moments of Deliverance before being reminded that White Stones are very much their own thing.
Kuarahy is built around a lot of centralized grooving, wherein the rhythm section is absolutely dominant, but it’s the regional influences that come through, given that the band and its members have roots in Spain. Many of the guitar leads perform a very deft dance across the fretboard, especially as you reach the back half of the disc. White Stones seem to metamorphose into a melodic creature ‘long about “Guyra” in the tracklisting, and the last few songs – especially during “Infected Soul” and “Taste Of Blood” – have some very up-front guitar work that stands out starkly against the group’s blueprint of loud, rumbling riffs and jangling chords that seem to worm their way through the whole release. Vocalist Eloi Boucherie especially contributes to the feeling of Kuarahy being a lumbering beast, with a full-throated yell that remains pretty low throughout the forty minutes they ask of you.
Despite this, it is a little difficult to pin down as many songs as I would like. The understated regionality of it is fascinating. White Stones blend so many differing approaches to progressive death that it’s initially hard to dissect the genesis point of certain grooves. The band specialize in rumbling music that crawls its way forward (the music videos leading up to Kuarahy’s release do a fantastic job of portraying the bizarre and off-kilter way White Stones approach their music), while at the same time remaining alien yet oddly recognizable.
White Stones don’t traffic in the varying blastbeat attacks that are the bread and butter of the death metal world. It’s death metal because they create behemoths out of their songs, wherein a common five-minute length just represents how weighty the songs are. Yet they’re not densely packed. It’s more because White Stones like the big swings of their music, with guitar parts that seem to collapse on top of the music while the drummer and bassist remain un-deterred from playing. The constant mid-tempo double-bass drum pulse becomes so unerringly accurate at times that you could set machinery by it.
The main overarching narrative is what was mentioned before. There are a handful of songs that truly stick out, but otherwise the lasting impression of Kuarahy and its mythological folk-tale namesake is more lofty over-tones and moods than specific moments, which helps explain its nebulous nature. Without falling too far into the paranoia of a room with mason-line strung throughout, Kuarahy is sort of beautifully bizarre. It’s hard to get a grasp on. The band portray themselves as relaxed sophisticates, suggesting they aim higher than the lower caveman aspect that so much death metal appeals to. It’s not so much “man breaks bone with stone” here as it is “man breaks bone with stone whilst sipping coffee and wearing a nice suit”.
Does it have an immediate appeal? Probably not. But the way it is sort of relaxed in how different and angular its approach is has meant that I am constantly being drawn back into it.