Matter As Regent. A bold statement indeed, against Platonic tradition which has dictated Western philosophy for millennia. Such a title rejects the notion that form subordinates matter, esteeming matter as the fundamental force and model around which everything revolves. My interest was immediately sparked, and it was with academic fervor that I approached this promo.
Embarking on a quest to unnerve and alienate, Portugal’s Wells Valley draws on sludge and post-metal akin to Neurosis, but with an avant-garde overlay. As their full-length début, it’s experimental and innovative, though on such a release as this, atmosphere or technicality has to take the reins from melody to inspire repeat listens. Unfortunately, while there are little nuggets of gold, Matter as Regent drags itself forward without impacting on its listener, offering little to spark you out of your reverie.
Wells Valley offers a disconcerting sound and I can certainly appreciate what they were aiming for, putting the listener on their back foot with discordant melodies and unusual compositions. They utilize an unpleasant, piercing guitar tone frequently, and switch vox between disturbed whispers and snarled shouts. They drag their feet at times, repeating demoralizing riffs which ring themselves around your brain (the first riff of the album on “Ghost Of You”), but occasional tempo shifts diversify affairs and even startled me at times (3:38 on “Sacred Mountain”). The strong percussive work by Pedro Mau contributes to this, with unsettling off-tempo beats from 3:10 on “Sacred Mountain,” and nifty transitions, such as at 2:06 on “Kingdom of Salvation.” This track is the strongest, with riffs like upward-spiralling little twisters, deranged whispered vox and ambient distortion to close out the record.
However, this stand-out aside, Matter As Regent fails in its quest. The distressing and ominous atmosphere they strive for isn’t reached, and I was disappointingly unoppressed by its darkness. It’s just too monotonous and stylistically similar across the album. Any of the first five tracks are inter-changeable and bleed into each other. Heavy moments intended to overwhelm are under-baked and feel weak – the opening of “Star Over A Wheel” for example. Even on the technical side, it falls short. While the instrumentation is fine, across the intentional absence of compelling melody and unintentional absence of strong atmosphere, the last vestige of interest falls on technicality. And this is either too lethargic in its slow moments, or too repetitious during the fast. I think it boils down to a lack of energy: traditional sludge bands have grooves, vitality and a certain ‘je-ne-sais-quoi’, regardless of their pace. It’s a shame since there is potential buried here, and their core sound is solid.
My residual academic fervor compels me to believe “Kingdom of Salvation” is the intentionally concluding matter-form middle ground from Aristotle’s hylomorphism, equating the two components. However, I can’t help but feel this is my projection on to Matter As Regent, desiring more than is actually here. I wish the atmosphere were more assertive and sinister, I wish their style was taken in more directions and I wish the album simmered with more macabre energy. There’s a twisted band at work here, and I’m hoping for a few more twists next time.