Pure Wrath – Hymn to the Woeful Hearts Review

Pure Wrath is a one-man atmospheric black metal project from Indonesia, and it really only took that bit of information—plus the cover art you see here—to sell me on reviewing it. I also learned that Hymn to the Woeful Hearts is the third full-length release from this project started by Ryo in 2014, and that he’s using the album to tell a story. Throughout the album, he imagines a mother who survived the Indonesian mass killings of 1965-66, and her fifty years of life following horrific events that saw her son kidnapped, tortured, and ultimately beheaded. It’s a very heavy topic, and I didn’t quite know what to expect when I sat down to listen to “The Cloak of Disquet” for the first time. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be utterly blown away, but hey, that’s what happens when you’ve got vision, talent, and ambition aplenty, which is clearly what’s happening here.

Despite what the subject matter may have you thinking, Hymn to the Woeful Hearts is not a devastatingly sad record, but rather one that deftly shifts through shades of melancholy, rage, sorrow, and barest touches of hope. The music is as hard-hitting as any metal I’ve heard this year, evoking Marrasmieli‘s brilliant debut from 2020. The riffs are inventive, exciting, and, best of all, mixed to stand front and center, rather than to blur in the background for texture. The songwriting reminds me of WinterfyllethPure Wrath seems to have no trouble with long songs that are consistently engaging and exciting. Alongside the guitars, strings, piano, and cello (courtesy of one Dice Midyanti) sooth and guide. Ryo’s rasps are a constant force for his music, but each proper song features at least some clean vocals, lending melancholy, hopefulness, and memorability to each one.

Of course, any kind of “atmospheric” music risks falling into the trap of becoming boring through overdone repetition. Fortunately, Pure Wrath has an excellent instinct for how much riff is too much riff. “Footprints of the Lost Child” is the shining example of this idea—it opens with a solid, melodic riff and leans on it heavily for the first few minutes of the song. At the exact second I start to think I’ve heard enough—BOOM. Strings. Melancholy. Clean singing! The song performs a complete 180° spin, as if to say “that’s right, I’m strong AND beautiful.” Hymn to the Woeful Hearts has got lots great ideas, and since it isn’t a long album, nothing feels overdone. “The Cloak of Disquiet” features a similar moment of knowing exactly when to switch ideas and do something new, not only to keep the song from becoming repetitive, but to enhance it by weaving new dimensions into the music. When, after five minutes of super strong metal, the piano glides in to gently close out the gorgeously mournful “Years of Silence,” all I want is more.

The only time this stellar instinct of Ryo’s really falters is in the title track, a three minute instrumental piece that ends the album. Thematically, I get why it’s there, but without the heaviness of the rest of the album, it starts to feel a bit repetitive and a touch meandering. There are also times throughout the album where Ryo’s harsh vocals sound a touch strained. And just like that, I’m out of criticisms—Hymn to the Woeful Hearts is a really strong offering of melancholic black metal in which most everything works. At 45 minutes, it doesn’t feel too long, and each track gets its own distinct identity to show off the full force of Pure Wrath‘s sound. It sounds great, is mixed very well, and does not lack for punch. I suppose it could punch more if it wanted to, but now I’m really grasping at straws. This is a hard album to complain about.

I suspect I’ll endure some flak for labelling Pure Wrath‘s style as “atmospheric black metal.” It is, after all, a hard-hitting album that maintains its heaviness and melancholy in equal measure. But I can’t think of a better term. Hymn to the Woeful Hearts evokes morning, hopeful, and even adventurous atmospheres and makes it seem effortless. This is an album you can get lost in, an album that demands nothing less than your full attention at all times to get the most from it. And I don’t know what else to tell you—it’s absolutely worth it.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Debemur Morti Productions
Websites: purewrath.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/purewrath
Releases Worldwide: February 18th, 2022

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