Having first encountered Munich’s Waldgeflüster on their split with Panopticon earlier this year, I was intrigued and further encouraged to investigate their brand of atmospheric black metal. A couple from our valued community rate their work as among the best in the genre. Try though I did, I found myself somewhat underwhelmed. Saor and Panopticon have become my touchstones and I felt exactly zero urges to commit myself while these gems reside in my library. Nonetheless, I resolved to give a chance to their fourth record, Ruinen, especially given the concerted attention I am obliged to confer on review albums. Having referenced the above bands, Waldgeflüster‘s sound isn’t too far from this formula. It draws from black metal for its substance but executes this with moody soundscapes and folky acoustic passages to generate atmosphere and scope. It all sounded encouraging and this was their shot to impress me.
My first observation of Ruinen was its structure. Its opening is distinctly indistinct. Leaving aside the short atmospheric intro, “Weltenwanderer” makes for pretty average listening which isn’t an outstanding way to open a long album. But tracks 3 through 6 flow very well: I describe the third in more depth below, but “Und Immer Wieder Schnee” opens with some decent Dissection-type riffs and reminds me slightly of Mistur with its aggressive hooks. “Ruinenfelder” is a decent interlude after 3 long tracks, featuring an acoustic guitar and strings, while “Graustufen Novembertage” has a cool shout-along chorus which makes for something new. Despite occupying 37 minutes across just 4 tracks, this passage doesn’t really drag and is paced well. Progression beyond this is entirely extraneous however and the record falls flat in its final 15 minutes. While “Aschephönix” may be the most melodic song this doesn’t necessarily correspond with memorability and “Susitaival” is a predictable acoustic outro which does nothing and goes nowhere.
Though I commend the middle chunk for its fit and flow despite the tracks’ length, this length still isn’t the ideal. A 10-minute track needs to engage throughout to justify this duration but most here do not. Panopticon and Saor excel here but they really are exceptional: Waldgeflüster don’t hold my attention in that way. It’s a nuisance for the good songs but a killer for the forgettable ones. Furthermore, a total span of 65 minutes is excessive. I appreciate that atmospheric black metal relies on protracted progression to establish itself and its mood but 5 tracks averaging 10 minutes a piece is too much, especially since there are 3 shorter ones fleshing this out. AMG‘s recent article on this matter comes to mind.
I’m also not a fan of the mix. It’s quite dense which contributes to a burying of the album’s melodies. The tones are thicker than is typical for black metal leading to chunkier but less subtle tremolo-picked passages. The elevated layer of guitars with which the listener is supposed to engage are scarcely elevated at all and take some picking out if you aren’t using reasonable listening equipment. Chanting largely suffers the same fate; while the harsh vocals retain utility as a rhythmic instrument, where they’re supposed to stand out they don’t. The odd exception to this is the actual singing on “Ruinenfelder” which receives much more space than the other cleans throughout.
Despite my complaints, Ruinen is undoubtedly good in parts. Where the melodies are given space they counter-point the heavier rhythms and riffs well: “Trümmerfestung” uses its trilling guitars effectively towards its beginning and it slows down to give the center-stage to the powerful chants a little later. The deft solo around the middle accentuates a decent passage and the re-entry after the atmospheric, acoustic interlude is suitably heroic. This track is the best example of Waldgeflüster highlighting their melodic elements – if not through the production then through the song-writing. Moreover, it concludes in an appropriately tempestuous fashion, reminding you that they can do the heavy stuff well. Beyond “Trümmerfestung,” the clean singing on “Ruinenfelder” makes for a pleasant juxtaposition to the heaviness and “Graustufen Novembertage” has its catchy chorus.
It is, perhaps, unfair to relentlessly compare Ruinen with Saor and Panopticon but it is a formulaic genre, beckoning such contrast. It bluntly does not stack up to these bands, exacerbated by the knowledge that the excellent new Saor is waiting in the wings whenever I sit down with it. Competence and reliability characterize Waldgeflüster and while these are commendable traits for household appliances, I remain underwhelmed from my initial exposure to their other work. Fans will assuredly glean more and while its solid mid-section is positive, I can’t quite see Ruinen remaining on my playlist.