Metal has more than its share of genres and sub-genres already, but guitar virtuoso Toby Knapp (Onward, Where Evil Follows) is intent on carving out yet another one via his one-man Waxen project. That genre would be called something like “shreddy black metal,” since third album, Weihung Auf Satan essentially answers the eternal question – what would happen if Richie Blackmore or Yngwie Malmsteen recorded a black metal album? I’m sure you’re already trying to imagine what that unholy abomination would sound like, so let me help: think early Burzum with Yngwie running amok on the guitar amid the standard blasting and shitty lo-fi worshiping. That can’t work at all, right? Well, let’s not pull out the Jump to Conclusions™ mat just yet, folks.
Seconds into opener “of Black Rain and Ecstasy” you know you’re in for a wild and bumpy ride. The sound is so raw and lo-fi, it will take you back to the earliest days of the Second Wave of Norwegian Production Annihilation and the high-pitched riffs are straight off a Burzum or Mayhem album. But at the 1:50 point Toby erupts into a beautifully melodic solo and from there on it’s nonstop musical bi-polar disorder as things swing from the raw and brootal to the wanky and tasteful. The end result is a really compelling slab of I’m not sure what, and though it’s a total mess, it’s an inspired one for sure, and that’s the pattern for the rest of this oddball platter.
The lengthy “In Harm’s Way” jerks and lurches from blasty blackness to stunning solo breaks and all the stops in between as you look at your transit map trying to fathom how you missed your stops at normalcy and predictability. Seriously, some of the guitar-work here sounds like it’s lifted right off the early Yngwie albums and when placed side by side with shitty, caustic trem riffing and utterly irredeemable, sewage-level vocals this causes a psychic schism of sorts. “Disembodied, Forgotten” is less intense, incorporating some Paradise Lost or Moonspell gothy elements in the riff patterns but still includes plenty of shrill trem-riffing, nasty blasting and a smattering of neo-classical noodling. None of this should work together and there’s an undeniable tension between the styles that somehow works in the song’s favor.
The title track benefits from somewhat melodic riffs that feel epic and emotive amid the lo-fi cacophony, though overall it’s less inspired and madcap than the earlier tracks, and “Atrocious Ways” manages to graft Bathory-esque muddy proto-black thrashing onto technical riff-work which Quorthon could never have managed (especially the fluid, graceful solo at 3:37).
While no song is what I’d call a dud, the front-half is definitely more adventurous, with some of the later material feeling safe and more familiar. If you’re going to go for this kind of hybrid style, go all out, and it feels like sometimes Knapp holds back from the real shredding to remain trve to the genre. From a production standpoint, this is a purposely raw, unpleasant mix which can be tough to handle, especially if played loudly. The way his vocals are mixed, they sometimes become too piercing and prominent, overwhelming the music with a wall of raw sound.
Guitar-wise, Knapp is obviously possessed of prodigious talent. He’s shown that in all his previous bands and reaffirms it here. It’s this high level of musicianship that makes Waxen such an intriguing listen and it strikes me (and at least one other AMG writer) that he’s just too good of a player for the genre and what is expected thereof. His vocals however are another story altogether. Drenched in reverb and distortion and approximating what Varg achieved on the early Burzum albums, they can be tough to take. They make the lyrics completely indecipherable and like the announcements in the NYC subway system, they’re loud and distracting without providing any useful information. The drums are programmed and adequate for the style and the bass is essentially lost in the maelstrom, but that’s par for the course with the style.
Waxen is an unusual project and Weihung Auf Satan is a strange album, but an interesting one. If you’re tired of the same old black metal tricks, it’s certainly worth a spin to hear the oddball approach. At the very least it motivates me to keep an eye out for future releases and considering my overall attitude toward black metal these days, that’s saying something.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Moribund Records
Websites: Too trve for inter-webvz
Releases Worldwide: June 24th, 2016