The world became a much darker place in 2009 when UK doom upstarts Warning disbanded after only two albums. When word got out that guitarist and vocalist Patrick Walker would form a new project called 40 Watt Sun with fellow Warning bandmate Christian Leitch, doomsters the world over panted with anticipation. What many people hoped would be a continuation of the morose path constructed by Warning‘s farewell album, 2006’s criminally underrated Watching from a Distance, instead were met with softer, but no less intense, waters with 40 Watt Sun‘s 2011 debut, The Inside Room. Five years and several label woes later, the band returns with their self-released second album, Wider than the Sky.
If Watching was the act of capturing a funeral march, and The Inside Room was the first few hours of sadness that lingers after the wake wraps up, then Wider is the first year of longing and sadness that follows. In other words, The Inside Room bore the label of “doom metal” in only the loosest of terms, and Wider discards it completely. The band retains the minimalist structure and Walker’s pained voice, but they implement the cleanest of tones. Opener “Stages” walks with the pained stride of a man whose heart is reeling from what his brain already knows. The simplest of chord strums and rhythms march with little variation, but Walker’s vocal delivery keeps the momentum moving ever-so-slowly forward. When the song changes things up at 6:05, Walker bellows out “But you don’t see me trying, do you?” adding emotional heft and giving the song a focal point before wallowing back into its initial crawl. The song shifts gears again at 9:51 with a slight uptick in pace, and Walker strikes a chord lyrically, knowing that love will be lost soon, if it hasn’t already (“And through this apathy wider than the sky/I’m feeling everything like nothing in my life.”). Powerful.
Wider than the Sky is an emotionally exhausting listen. Part of the reason for this is the repetition of the chord progressions and melodies throughout the album, which stretch out for minutes at a time. “Another Room” crawls for over 8 minutes before the sky opens up with some variance, with only Walker’s wailing and lyrics keeping things interesting. The Anathema-like “Pictures,” in stark contrast, sounds a bit lively and optimistic compared to the rest of the album, despite the depressive lyrics (“Moving stills of sound and light are spilling through/The projector of my mind/playing like the first time, I am no less unprepared/And a darkness undresses me of everything.”). Closer “Marazion” addresses the feeling of hiraeth (Welsh for “a place or home you can never return to”), and while the shortest of the six songs at a hair under four minutes, it hits home with its effective chord structures and Walker’s lamenting of a home long gone.
Despite the relatively low DR score at the bottom, Wider sounds miles better than the rating implies. Little guitar harmonies abound beneath the simple strumming, William Spong’s bass can be heard and felt (as it should since he produced the album), and Leitch’s drums provide a non-intrusive beat without overpowering everything. My qualm with the album, and it stretches to 40 Watt Sun as a whole, is the excessive length of both the parts of songs as well as the songs themselves. “Stages” would make the perfect acoustic doom metal song at 11 minutes, and the song clocks in past the sixteen-minute point. This wouldn’t be a problem if there were some variety in the repetition themselves, but besides Walker’s painfully beautiful voice and lyrics, the song feels longer than needed. “Another Room,” at almost twelve minutes, wore out its welcome for me about halfway in.
Wider Than the Sky personifies the term “mood music” to a crucifix-like T. After a week of listening to this album, I recognize the passion that went into its creation, and respect the work that Walker and company have given before in terms of emotionally heavy music. Bits of the album are great, but this is a difficult release to navigate. As a doom metal fan who loves all things dark and heavy, it pains me to say that Wider didn’t click with me like it should. Your mileage may vary, however.