White Stones – Dancing Into Oblivion Review

This review is late, and while I am aware of my own tardiness, and am all about accountability, I pin the blame squarely at Nuclear fucking Blast. You see the juggernaut label doesn’t seem to care much for us angry metal folk, providing last minute promos, or none at all. I assume it’s a combination of factors, and perhaps their own insecurities of not wanting to risk pre-release bad write-ups, due to our tendency of calling a spade a spade and being willing to lambast high profile duds. Whatever the case, here we are to provide a legal, post-release examination of the quickfire second LP from White Stones, the death metal project spearheaded by Opeth bassist Martin Mendez. 2020’s debut Kuarahy certainly had its moments and was an intriguing, well crafted, if not overly exciting platter. In hindsight, I was perhaps a half-point generous in my assessment. Still, it offered enough interest and intrigue to make me eager to hear how White Stones develop on subsequent releases. Sophomore album Dancing Into Oblivion is now upon us, so how does it stack up?

The relatively short turnaround between albums has not resulted in a drastic deviation from the sound established on the debut. Essentially White Stones deliver groovy, accessible death metal with strong progressive and middle eastern overtones. Mendez shines with his typically expressive, warm basslines, cushioned by solid drumming, and guitar work that is exploratory, probing and occasionally equipped with chunkier death riffage, and solos offering a a psychedelic air of controlled chaos. Decent death growls lend the album a heavier punch, though don’t expect ten ton heaviness or uglyfied brutality here. Lead off singles “New Age of Dark” and “Chain of Command” lay down a solid early platform, setting off some mild Opethian vibes, and expressing their warm tones, tasty atmosphere, and penchant for grooving rhythms and quirkier prog dynamics. Neither tune hits any extreme tempos, but the interesting arrangements, ripping solos, and overall catchiness hold interest.

The increased degree in which White Stones dabble in weirder, proggier territory is a point of contention here, coming at the cost of focus and detracting from their deathlier values. “Iron Titans” spends the first three minutes of its nearly nine minute duration dabbling in pleasantly hypnotic, gentle waves of instrumental prog, in an extended build-up that way overstays its welcome. Once the song kicks in proper it offers plenty of redeemable elements, with some nice riffcraft, rumbling momentum, and strong vocals. A noisier, improvisational outro closes proceedings. However, if the band just cut to the chase and shaved the unnecessary proggy meanderings, the tune would have been far more appealing. Whereas the debut had a progressive and adventurous spirit, the songs were more grounded and punchier, flexing their chunkier death metal muscles. The experimental nature and softer, prog touches may work for some listeners, however their increased integration has left me a little disappointed and miffed.

There are further frustrating issues, as White Stones insist on diving down obscure proggy rabbit holes. Three of the eight cuts are instrumental interludes, while “Freedom of Captivity” takes way too long to get going, as the first couple of minutes go nowhere fast, further psych-prog noodling eventually giving way to the band’s heavier forays. I’m all about progressiveness in my metal, but the mellower utilization of prog throughout the album stifles momentum and lacks cohesion. Like the aforementioned “Iron Titans,” once it kicks in and finds its groove, “Freedom of Captivity” has some appealing sections and solid ideas, yet again it feels like an overstuffed, missed opportunity. On the plus side, there are certainly some cool moments scattered across Dancing Into Oblivion. And bolstered by excellent production and musicianship, the album is propped up from a complete misfire, while simultaneously exacerbating the frustration.

I have big issues with the flow of the album, and the increased, less focused integration of progressive elements has backfired, resulting in a mixed bag collection of fractured tunes. White Stones possess loads of talent, with enough positive components from their first two albums to hint at their untapped potential. Unfortunately, Dancing Into Oblivion is a bit of a mess, marred by self indulgent meanderings, songwriting with an identity crisis, and simply not enough quality tunes to outweigh its frustrating flaws. Hopefully they can strike a winning balance next time. Now Nuclear Blast, where the fuck is that Carcass promo?

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast
Website: facebook.com/WhiteStonesOfficial
Releases Worldwide: August 27th, 2021

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