Stumbling over the cresting lip of the dune, the traveler scries his oasis, a bastion in the sand. Its once grand facade cracks in the throbbing sun, perpetually battling harsh years of sand and gale. Worn doors slam shut as the traveler steals away into the cool of its ruined depths, unwittingly caging himself inside. The ancient nightmare within will never permit his escape. Wreche offers a spyglass into that bloody hall. They rip the spine from traditional black metal, instead selecting only a piano, a drum kit, and the traveler’s tormented cries to do their bidding. Their self-titled debut maniacally splices theatricality and madness to forge a new path through the darkness.
This sounds like chaos, utter insanity at its peak. Drums on full blast, the piano a whirlwind of keys and malice, “Angel City” disregards its titular branding in totality. Though comprised of few layers, the music strains under its own weight. The nearly off-putting work of John Steven Morgan and Barret Baumgart is frustratingly impenetrable at first. Yet as it unfurls, clearly defined boundaries emerge. Whether due to aural acclimation or Wreche intentionally bearing down on what they hope to convey, this development adds clarity and grounding to an album in desperate need of some. Tracks move with the heft of atmospheric black metal, but the fundamental precision of the piano prevents Wreche from proper emulation. Instead, Morgan’s atmospheric vocals fuse with the drive of the second wave. The musicianship is terrific and commanding, generating the storm of a quintet from only two men. Baumgart churns and blasts his way through a dizzying selection of beats while Morgan displays 88 shades of magnetic virtuosity. Wreche would be dead on arrival were it not for the skill of both participants.
The thirteen-minute “Fata Morgana” consumes much of the record, parlaying its length into forceful dynamism. Never are the album’s blackened roots more apparent than in the monotonous repetition of the main “riff,” repeated ad nauseam through the center of the track. Unfortunately, the bulk of the proceedings convert to run-of-the-mill black metal. Wreche spend an awful lot of energy coaxing the song into something not all that different from your standard frostbitten affair, rather than embracing its idiosyncratic illumination. It’s an odd decision for the composition, because when the album isn’t pressing forward, it risks getting sucked up its own ass. The spin only lasts 33:33, but when you omit the intro, the artsy-fartsy sampling on “Fata Morgana,” breather track “Petals,” and fade-out dead air on finale “Vessel,” only 25 minutes of memorable, digestible product remains. Couple that with a stagnant playing style (at least within the “metal” portions) and very few stand-out “riffs,” and Wreche somehow stumbles as an abbreviated, disappointing listen.
Also notable is the album’s untreated nature. Occasional missed notes and unedited imperfections enhance the album’s genuine feel. Colin Marston (Gorguts, Krallice) wisely resists delving too deeply into black metal’s rawness, crafting a trve-defyingly gorgeous DR11. Morgan benefits the most, his clarion heights of “Vessel” rising to another level. The track spirals higher and higher, leaving you gasping for air before cutting the engine and tumbling back earth. Baumgart’s blasts and rolls serve as ample background for the most compelling – dare I say headbangable? – music on the record. The piano takes on a life of its own, highlighting the potential within Wreche‘s vision in one final crescendo. Morgan’s distant howls are nowhere to be found here, and in truth have little impact on the proceedings overall. I am generally not a proponent for instrumental albums, but the quality of “Vessel” suggests that Wreche would succeed with just such a tactic.
Wreche is no mere parlor trick. Morgan and Baumgart have the chops to develop Wreche into an mind-changing wrecking crew, capable of pushing the boundaries of the scene. Substantial flaws in the secondary leave the full-length feeling more like an polished EP, but that does not eliminate Wreche‘s proof of concept. I want to like Wreche more than I do, and perhaps in time I will. Wreche surely has the vision, but it is up to their next entry to determine whether or not they have the execution.