A peculiar thing happened when I downloaded the promo for 0160, the sixth release from German instrumental post-metallers BLCKWVS. Upon opening the folder containing the album and accompanying photos, I noticed that there were two copies of each and every song on 0160. Thinking it was a simple flub-up, I deleted the second copies of each song, saving precious space on my phone. Immediately after doing so, I read online that this was no ordinary screw-up on the label’s end. Rather, 0160 is a “double-album,” actually, and the quotations are there to signify that it’s actually just one album, but with two versions: one with vocals from various contributors, and one purely instrumental. It’s good to see an instrumental band give vocals a go.1
Musically, the instrumental version contains all the power exhibited in prior releases like 0150. “0161 BL” lurches like a vocal-free bastard child of Russian Circles and Crowbar, with some nice airy keyboards by Frank Uelsberg giving a floating, dream-like trance near the middle before hurtling everything back into our atmosphere. Elsewhere, standout track “0165 EN,” probably the fastest song on here (and closest the band gets to Russian Circles territory), heaves with incredible energy and urgency without sacrificing any of the heft or power. On their own, the nine tracks offer enough variety and mood shifts to make its 45 minutes seem like far less, carrying the listener through its various twists and turns with relative ease.
When you add vocals to the mix, though, that’s when things get a bit hairy. Lyrically, 0160 follows the concept of space and the inherent loneliness, despair, and claustrophobia it brings with it,2 but some of the performances sound a bit too happy to really fit. “0162 AC,” once bouncy and plodding in the instrumental version, takes on a new level of weirdness once Siggi Rudzynski of Space Chaser pulls his best Bruce Dickinson impersonation on it. Elsewhere, Marc Grewe (ex-Morgoth) growls and howls to better effect on “0168 BA,” fitting in even better on here than he did in his old band. Most surprisingly, though is Kadaver‘s Lupus giving an almost unrecognizable performance on “0167 AY,” doing away with his doom-soaked delivery for a more unhinged performance consisting largely of spoken word. Most of the time, though, the vocals don’t seem to add or subtract anything from the music, such as i not dance‘s Munde’s contributions to “0163 KH,” which fit just fine, but don’t really boost anything, nor take anything away from what the core band is trying to accomplish musically.
On the production front, what does take a bit of 0160‘s shine away is how compressed this album is. Sure, it beefs up Stefan Uhe’s guitars and Chris Nußbaum’s bass work to gargantuan levels of heft and power, but often at the expense of Tobias “Tommec” Völlmecke’s drum sounds, especially in the cymbals. 0160 is loud, even at lower volumes, so cranking it up to hear bits of Uelsberg’s keyboards makes it a bit impossible to accomplish without suffering from hearing loss. Also, while it was cool to hear the version of 0160 with vocals, truth of the matter is that it doesn’t even need them to be a good album.
And that’s what 0160 is at its core. A good album. It’s not mindblowingly awesome, but it doesn’t need to be. What it accomplished was winning me over enough to check out their back catalog while keeping an eye out for future releases by these German heavyweights. That’s a success, no matter how you slice it.