My relationship with Deafheaven is “it’s complicated” on Facebook. I don’t even know if that’s a thing anymore, but you see, I enjoyed 2013’s Sunbather for its heart wrenching combination of post-rock and black metal. However, what really grinds my gears is the carnage that the band left in their wake, as suddenly legions upon legions of fanboys, ripoffs and mimics started flooding the scene. Lascar, clearly one of these fanboys, is a one-man post-black act from Santiago, Chile, signed to Italy’s A Sad Sadness Song Records. 2018’s Wildlife is lone member Gabriel Hugo’s third full-length since 2016. He professes that this album is perfection: “a sensible romantic vision on the naturalistic world is the exact picture that Lascar’s music paints on the canvas.” Metal as fuck. As you may have guessed, his project roisters in a style of post-black metal very similar to Deafheaven, right down to the twinkly tremolo, blastbeating drums, and distant howls. So can Wildlife salvage some gold from the sunbathing miry clay?
In spite of its somewhat infamous track record, post-black metal can be interesting, as evident in offerings by genre contributors Bosse-de-Nage, Alcest, or The Great Old Ones. The key is powerful songwriting that conjures a range of emotions using textured atmospheres, dichotomous aggression and placidity, and original or unpredictable execution. To its discredit, Lascar has none of these, as evident from the opener “Petals”, which, not only sets the stage for the “sensible romantic” tone of the album, but also the template for every song to follow. Each track begins with melodic plucking that builds until it is interrupted very harshly by a melodic wall of tremolo, blastbeating drums, and distant screeches. While it’s normal for artists to follow a template for songwriting, it wastes no time in pointing out Lascar’s issue: monotony.
To be fair, Gabriel Hugo knows his instruments. Or at least, he knows that he’s playing instruments. How else could he do his Explosions in the Sky-esque dynamics fused with Burzum tremolo shenanigans? But knowing how to play is different than being good at it, and Wildlife only resides in the former. The quavering guitars on “The Disdain,” for example, sound indistinguishable from the “Submission,” which sound identical to “Petals,” and so on. So even if Hugo were competent at his craft, we wouldn’t know, because his skill is drowned in poor repetition. Thankfully, the bass is solid and sporadically interesting, as its barely audible noodling adds smidgens of texture to the otherwise bland soundscape; the drumming strays from straightforward blastbeats here and there for genuinely interesting rhythms and fills. However, if the rhythm instruments are the only redeemable factors about your music in a guitar-dominated genre, you’re doing something wrong.
Wildlife does change up its sound at times, but it’s so short-lived or jarring that it makes no impact to the album at large. “The Majestic Decay” features a genuinely aggressive riff that shifts the pace and the tone into something truly dark and angry, but it quickly morphs back into the old “feelsy” melody before the song can be considered anything greater than passable. Conversely, “Fatigue” sports a southern rock-esque riff that feels more like a wrecking ball through the limp twinkling atmosphere that surrounds it.
Music is more than just pretty sounds. What makes metal so intriguing is its abstruse nature, and unfortunately, Gabriel Hugo leaves nothing for the imagination. Through poor songwriting and monotonous execution, all that remains are pretty sounds, and at best Wildlife is another cautionary tale about the pitfalls of post-black metal. Simply burying black metal vocals underneath your latest metal guitar cover of Mono’s “Burial at Sea” for six straight songs is not creativity, nor does it incite any reaction other than “ew, not this again.” Yes, I can credit good ol’ Angsty Post-Black Metal Guy Gabe for being able to play a bunch of instruments. Hell, if he could hone the aggression, turn down the feels, and work on his songwriting, he has the potential to create a genuinely enjoyable record. Or maybe he should turn his attention to a rad jazz band with his formidable bass and drums skills. But with Wildlife, there’s a reason Lascar rhymes with NASCAR: it just goes around in the same “sad sadness” circle for no reason.