The output of Raphael Weinroth-Browne is no stranger to these Angry Metal Lands. He and his Canadian counterpart Heather Sita Black, operating under the moniker The Visit, were previously reviewed in 2015. And he now works with Leprous as a dedicated cellist, while he also participates in neo-folk troupe Musk Ox and classical duo Kamancello. Across these projects, he has exhibited a flair for flexible use of his instrument, the cello, and I was therefore excited to observe a release called Worlds Within under his own name, solely composed by himself. How does his music fare when divested from the creative control of others’ grubby hands?
It’s evident from minute one that Weinroth-Browne is not just a talented cellist, but also a talented composer. The compositions are stunning, featuring subtle harmonies and careful arrangements of cello textures, such that Worlds Within doesn’t just sound classical even though it solely uses a classical instrument. The cliché of “more than the sum of its parts” is so relevant that it transcends relevance; although there is only one “part” (the cello), the music is so dynamic and expressive that it evokes many genres such as folk, post-rock, ambient, and metal. “Unending” opens and closes the record, utilizing slower, graceful melodies that generate an ambient, cosmic atmosphere. It doesn’t use any of the more unexpected tricks of which Weinroth-Browne is capable, but it establishes the basics very well; it slowly extends the fingers of sound from the cello in the palm. Developing from almost-ambiance, “From Within” builds with waves and reaches crescendos which most evoke post-rock. “From Above” then opens with a folksy tone and hits an urgent peak which is very metal. That so many genres are conjured is a testament to Weinroth-Browne’s ability not just as an instrumentalist but as a composer.
Clearly, Weinroth-Browne is a master of his instrument. While he can make all of the sounds you would expect, the more fun tricks include picking the strings like a guitar and hitting the instrument in a percussive fashion and then using effects pedals, to create metal-adjacent sounds. “From Above” uses its cellos like a guitar which is darting around, creating angles, with a tone similar to an electric guitar. I wish that the most urgent passage would explode into something more like a guitar solo but I understand the desire to not sound overly ‘metal’; this record is more than an Apocalyptica album which simply tries to make metal with a cello. Meanwhile, “Tumult” opens with a percussive ‘rhythm’ which sounds somewhere between a synthetic electronic beat and a real drum. The diversity of sound generated from a nominally simple instrument is impressively surprising.
The compositions are always in fluctuation without ever feeling scattershot or inconsistently written. Particular “rhythms” or lower-pitched strokes occupying the bottom end may repeat but the layering over the top varies, as in typical rock music. There are moments of frenetic energy where the cello layers sound more like violins but also slower moments that favor emotion and grandiosity. The stringy superstructures are always constructing and deconstructing, such as on “Tumult” which is broken into four parts. Each part transitions seamlessly with the last, opening softly before becoming heavier throughout. If I have to offer criticism, it’s the partitioning of the song; the splits are logically located but I would rather it just flowed rather than striving to be more bite-sized. Further, by the fourth example of the same structure (“IV”) it has become somewhat formulaic, making this part mildly less awesome than the other parts. But beyond this, Weinroth-Browne demonstrates excellent song-writing control across Worlds Within, maintaining a sense of progression and freshness. For example, it would have been easy for the bold finale, “Fade (Afterglow)”1 to feel slow and lethargic. It’s bare and repetitive, only proffering four chords across its entire first minute. But the ominous atmosphere and drearier emotions offer another new texture towards the rear when albums often begin to feel too long.
Those with even a passing interest in modern classical, or the use of classical instruments in rock and metal, should pay attention to Raphael Weinroth-Browne and Worlds Within. It’s a stunning example of less being more and has opened up 2020 in the best possible way for me. 2 The dynamic master and wonderful, breathy mix only intensify my admiration and once again remind me that I should listen to even more ambient and synth music which tends to be mastered far more dynamically than metal. But even metalheads shouldn’t miss this: though formally classical, Worlds Within is the sound of a classical instrumentalist and composer who loves the aesthetics of metal so offers more than you may assume.