Dunwich – Tail-Tied Hearts Review

Considering its size and influence on the world, Russia has provided the scene with precious few successful metal bands. Strange for a country that shares a border with Finland and is known for the biggest frostbitten tundra on the planet. From the top of my head came Second to Sun, Arkona and Tardigrade Inferno, and that’s about it (though I’m sure there’s more). Maybe Dunwich can muscle their way onto the stage. Hailing from Moscow, the trio has constructed this debut of theirs in a very independent spirit before being picked up by Caligari Records, who are calling it ‘one of the most unique and exciting bands [they]’ve come across in years.’ Does Tail-Tied Hearts live up the praise or is it just the usual label fluffery?

Imagine my surprise when I spin the album the first time and am greeted with something I might have expected from Madder Mortem, particularly recalling last year’s single “Vigil.” While only opener “Glow” is stylistically different from what follows, it sets the tone for the emotional core that strengthens Tail-Tied Hearts throughout its running time. Rather than replicating the Madder’s idiosyncratic brand of alt-goth-prog, Dunwich show themselves equally capable cocktail shakers by infusing the gloom and doom of gothic and… well, doom, with a retro wink of synthesized organ and frontwoman Margarita Dunwich’s beauty and the beast combo of occult clean and nasty blackened vocals.

And they pull it off, too, largely by playing to their strengths. Margarita’s beautiful vocals have haunting qualities to spare; her ghostly tone, her witch-like snarls, even her native accent conjures the image of a Baba Yaga type figure. The organ adds a wonderful touch of occult rock, creating a sound that’s just dripping with atmosphere, conjuring dead woods where the branches reach for a grey sky in thorned tangles that cast dense shadows on the bone strewn forest floor. This image is largely painted at mid-pace, frequently employing 3/4 tempos to create a darkly sensual hypnotism as if lulled to your death by succubi, stacking layers of vocals, synths and grimy guitars on a tom-heavy drum style. When the music does speed up, these layers contract and plow forward like the gates of hell opening, such as on spooky hooky highlight “Mouth of Darkness.”

There’s still some signs of a young band getting the hang of some elements of their sound. Despite having a firm grip on quite a unique identity, they are sometimes too careful, too withdrawn in their writing, and that’s when tracks like “Wooden Heart” or “Fall” happen, where the pace insists on staying so regular and measured it hurts the dynamics and makes the songs too predictable. While the hypnosis effect works well when there is enough change-up in the tracks, such as on “Through the Dense Woods” or “Sanctuary,” it isn’t strong enough to last an entire cut uninterrupted. Similarly “The Sea” can’t sustain its 9 minute length on organ-driven atmospherics alone, beautifully haunting though they are. Additionally, though this may be a ‘humble beginnings’ symptom, the production is dense and smushed. While that does help the record feel claustrophobic, there are certainly ways to achieve this without giving up so much in texture, detail and fidelity.

Still, taking everything else into account, these are merely growing pains of one of the most immensely promising debuts I’ve come across in a long time. Bands this young oftentimes have to focus on getting a well-written album out to begin with, let alone making one with oodles of atmosphere, excellent performances from the instrumentals to the beautiful and terrifying vocals, and most impressively, an identity not quite like anyone else’s. There’s a few small stumbling blocks, but the majority of Tail-Tied Hearts flies in the face of expectations to deliver a refreshing gust of breath with the smell of rotting wood. I can’t wait to see what Dunwich cook up next in their cauldron of bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: VDR | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Caligari Records
Websites: dunwichband.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/dunwich.moscow
Releases Worldwide: August 21st, 2020

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