Wardaemonic – Acts of Repentance Review

I like long songs. There is something inherently pleasing to me about diving into an extended composition, figuring out its interlocking parts and, if written well, how they are woven together. Of course, length alone does not a smart song make. Anyone can throw a dozen disparate riffs together without rhyme or reason under the pretense of progressive songwriting. That’s what’s kind of amazing about Wardaemonic’s fourth LP, Acts of Repentance. These songs aren’t necessarily clever, but what they lack in songwriting tact is made up for by a dense, captivating atmosphere. Wardaemonic’s relentless nature may turn some people away from such tests of endurance. Luckily for them, I’ve trained for this.

Wardaemonic plays death-tinged black metal (we’ll call it deathened black metal, because fuck it) which evokes aggression more convincingly than anything else I’ve heard this year. Their intertwined tremolo harmonies, dripping with dissonant malice, coax visions of towering columns of flame. Rhythm-wise, the audible, floor-shaking basslines underscore the relentless blast-beat salvos, making for an absolute Hellnado of blackened noise. The chaos works thanks to Acts of Repentance’s five-act structure, which allows for a tangible tonal arc. Acts one and five aim to bury the listener under a mountain of riffs; acts two and four aim for more atmospheric, introspective stylings; and act three pins it all together with elemental, near avant-garde dissonance. It’s this variety which wards off monotony, transforming a potentially mind-numbing experience into one which is legitimately compelling.

Acts of Repentance, while rock-solid in many respects, is not as impressive in terms of songwriting. While Wardaemonic structures their songs so as to culminate in a climactic blast of renewed intensity (typically anchored by an impressively meaty “fuck you” riff), they often feel directionless otherwise. Thankfully, the riffs are universally appealing, incorporating an appropriate balance of traditional melody to keep the listener hooked until that final salvo arrives. And in truth, the songwriting is more average than truly disappointing and allows for a handful of wonderfully unpredictable turns. I especially enjoyed the left-field homages to Hammerheart-era Bathory sprinkled throughout “Act IV – Sufferance,” as well as the dive into Anaal Nathrakh-esque grinding black metal near the end of “Act III – Castigation.”

From an engineering standpoint, Acts of Repentance is a loud-ass production, but it’s the kind of loud record which proves that mix balancing is just as important as dynamism. Despite the cacophonic aesthetic, no single instrument ever overpowers, with even the aforementioned bass frequently shining through. This reveals some uncommonly groove-oriented bass work for a black metal record of this sort, courtesy of bassist (sigh) Blitz. Yet drummer and vocalist (extended sigh) Maelstrom steals much of Wardaemonic’s spotlight, his vicious, hardcore-tinged blackened barks outshined only by his ridiculous limb endurance behind the kit. And that kit sounds beautifully ugly, too, with impactful kicks and a natural, forceful snare emphasizing that modern drum production can sound amazing when not polished to a chromium sheen.

Early on in my process of reviewing Acts of Repentance, I had hastily noted that it’s the auditory equivalent of a descent into Hell. As I became well acquainted with its overall structure, I realized this cliche descriptor was inaccurate. The record’s thematic spiral from dense, traditional riffage to elemental otherworldliness and back again is an exercise in embracing chaos in its many blackened forms. It might have been nice if Wardaemonic had incorporated a final track that neatly tied all their ideas together, but the album’s variety and execution are seriously impressive as is. Its dense nature proves seriously rewarding upon repeated exposure, and while imperfect, I expect Acts of Repentance to land on a few year-end lists. If it can stick with me until December, it may even weasel its way into mine.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Transcending Obscurity | Bandcamp
Websites: wardaemonic.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/wardaemonic
Releases Worldwide: March 20th, 2020

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