(Andy Synn continues our long-running relationship with Chicago’s Chrome Waves, whose new album is set for release next week)
It’s crazy, when you think about it, just how long we’ve been writing about Chrome Waves, publishing our very first post about the group – then made up of The Atlas Moth‘s Stavros Giannopolous, ex-Nachtmystium guitarist Jeff Wilson, and former The Gates of Slumber drummer Bob Fouts (RIP) – in December 2011.
And while things have certainly changed quite a bit since then – the group essentially began all over again in 2018, with Wilson and Amiensus vocalist/guitarist James Benson forming the new core of the band’s ever-evolving line-up, which now also features bassist Zion Meager and drummer Garry Naples – we’ve continued to follow their career with both fascination and appreciation aplenty over the years.
But what’s particularly fascinating about their upcoming fourth album, Earth Will Shed Its Skin, is the way in which it attempts to weave the two most distinctive aspects of the band’s sound – the cathartic “Post-Black Metal” side that appeals to fans of Tombs, Deafheaven, and the like, and the shoegaze-y Alt-Rock side that recalls the best of acts like Hum and Catherine Wheel – into a single, coherent whole.
Does it succeed? Or does it shatter under the weight of everything it’s trying to achieve? Let’s find out!
The dichotomy at the core of the band’s sound is, if anything, even more prominent on Earth Will Shed Its Skin, which is structured in a way that progresses from the more overtly metallic style of the first few tracks – whether that’s in the form of the heart-wrenching howls and harmonised leads which drive simmering, string-infused opener, “Forward”, or the fierce urgency and brooding darkness of “The Long Rope” – towards an altogether more sombre and introspective approach during the album’s second half.
This latter half in particular – especially the dreamy “What Desperate Looks Like” and the sublimely melodic, yet increasingly sinister, strains of “The Nail” – will appeal most strongly to those, like myself, who felt that the band’s third album, 2021’s The Rain Will Cleanse, was arguably their best work, and when juxtaposed against the harsher edge of the album’s first few tracks, which err more towards the early, A Grief Observed era of the band’s short but scintillating career, the end result could easily have been a record divided against itself.
However, as I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know, it’s not actually as neat and as clean-cut as all that.
Though there’s no question that the album’s sound subtly shifts over the course of its just under forty-one minute run-time, a closer listen will reveal that each of the band’s two aspects bleed over into one another far more than is first apparent, from the way that the haunting saxophone scattered throughout “The Long Rope” adds an air of moody melancholy to the track’s more aggressive mien, to the manner in which the unexpectedly visceral finale of “The Nail” totally transforms the way the song feels.
And while keen ears will no doubt enjoy unpicking the myriad ways in which all the different threads of the band’s sound – from Black Metal to Post-Punk to Shoegaze – perfuse and permeate each of the album’s six songs, it’s the two longest and most intricately arranged compositions, “Under the Weight of a Billion Souls” and “Broken”, which perhaps best reflect the holistic nature of Chrome Waves‘ sound in their current incarnation, both balancing darkness and light, harshness and harmony, in different – yet equally captivating – ways.
Sure, part of me does miss the relative simplicity and pure melodic clarity of tracks like “Sometimes” and “Wind Blown”, but what the band have done here is remind you that this was always just one side of their identity. And, on Earth Will Shed Its Skin, they want you to realise, and accept, that there’s two sides, two faces, to every coin, and sometimes you need to appreciate both of them to truly understand its worth.