We all travel through various phases in life. For example, Younger Me was all about the extreme side of metal. It didn’t matter the quality, as long as it was fast, loud, and brutally heavy. As I grew older, I sold many of those albums because, to put it bluntly, they lacked in many areas. Some of them had shit production jobs, while others had piss-poor vocals. What they all had in common was the lack of one key ingredient: The Hook™. It doesn’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that musical, rhythmic, melodic swing, baby. So with that in mind, I grabbed Radiation, the sixth full-length from Swiss post-metallers Impure Wilhelmina on a blind whim, having never heard a note from them prior. Only bad things can happen, right?
Except you would be wrong. Oh so very, very wrong. From their one-sheet, Radiation is described as being inspired by modern-day Katatonia, and that is a good, if not completely accurate, template of their sound. Sure, atonal melodies dart and weave in and out like a seasoned prize fighter in “Great Falls Beyond Death” and “Torn.” But what the bio neglects to add is that there’s a bit of an indie rock touch in the structures and climaxes, with the one key influence springing to mind is The Smiths and a maybe a touch of Failure. I know, I know, but hear me out; rather than pull the band away from the heft and power of the riffs, these hooks enhance the songs to ridiculous levels of memorability and replayability.
The reason for this is found in the velvety vocals of guitarist and founder Michael Schindl. His voice is equal parts Jonas Renkse (Katatonia) and a less melodramatic Morrissey, and it propels the music to lofty heights. His soft, somber timber at the end of “Meaningless Memories” is at once beautiful and heartbreaking, especially when it’s draped over a touching guitar melody. Elsewhere, Schindl adopts a powerful shout during the chorus of “Murderers,” turning the song into a Katatonia-gone-Isis (the band, ninny) power trip. But easily the biggest stand-out (and in the running for my Song o’ the Year pick) goes to “Bones and Heart,” where the marriage of clever riffs by Schindl and fellow guitarist Diogo Almeida and a chorus (“There’s so much pain to stay here with you/Too much pain to live with you”) that’s impossible to not sing along to leads to a song that you can’t help but repeat over and over.
Adding to the replayability factor of Radiation is the construction of the songs themselves. At first listen, they all sound well-constructed with great hooks and tremendous vocals. Further listens uncover nuances and layers that weren’t fully revealed at first. The production, helmed by Serge Morattel and Raphaël Bovey, can be both thanked and blamed for that. While capturing the band’s moods and power (especially Mario Togni’s drumming), they also relegate Sebastien Dutruel’s bass to background status, making its appearance limited to the choruses. Also, during the middle of closer “Race With You,” the heavier parts become a bit noisy, even at lower volumes. That said, if you can power through it, the rewards are more than satisfying.
I went into Radiation expecting more post-rock boredom, and came away with an album that’s neck-and-neck with the new Pallbearer as my Album of the Year. With the new Tau Cross on the horizon as well, July’s quickly turning into a month of quality post-rock, post-metal, post-whatthefuckever, and Impure Wilhelmina definitely caught my attention (and soul) with Radiation. Younger Me would have shit a plutonium brick at this selection, but Older Me is over-the-moon enthralled with it. Give this time and patience and you will be, too.