White Stones – Kuarahy Review

Martin Méndez always appeared the most metal of the Opeth crew, with his cool stage presence and thrashing headbanging style. As his main band continue spiraling down a vintage progressive rock rabbit hole, Méndez has decided to reconnect with his death metal roots with brand spanking new project, White Stones. Combining with some like-minded and suitably talented buddies, Méndez and co have crafted debut album Kuarahy. Inevitably, expectations for a side project of a band with the profile of Opeth is going to garner an extra degree of expectation and intrigue. White Stones is no exception, though thankfully the hype hasn’t been overwhelmingly jammed down throats in the build-up to the release. Although some progressive tendrils wind through the material, largely Kuarahy plays towards its strengths, that being rhythmically dynamic, groovy death with melodic overtones.

Rather than over complicate things, White Stones play it fairly straight, embracing a lurching, largely mid-paced, groove driven style of death, featuring a dash of prog. The Opeth influence is inescapable but certainly not a dominating factor, with mid-era Opethian vibes ghosting through the material. This is especially evident in the melancholy tones and proggified melodies of “Drowned in Time,” and lurching dynamics of “Guyra.” These songs still manage to excel and sustain their own identity without overstaying their welcome. The formidable growls of frontman Eloi Boucherie feature shades of Åkerfeldt’s once mighty roars and he delivers a strong performance. Meanwhile, Méndez creates his own authoritative stamp on the material, not only reconnecting with his deathly roots but adding some exotic traces of his rich cultural heritage into the concoction. For the most part though, it’s playful, sturdy Scandinavian-styled death that White Stones deal in, with frequently enjoyable results.

Aside from the tasteful but hardly essential Latin-flecked instrumental pieces bookending the front and back of the album, the guts of Kuarahy features consistently solid material, largely devoid of filler. “Worms” is an addictive, beastly gem, built on subtle dynamic shifts, a swaggering lead riff, tons of groove, and an impressive vocal performance. The steady, rumbling assault permeating most of the album’s tunes are cut with tasteful lead work and vaguely experimental and progressive twists, chiselled into generally compact compositions. Songs like “Ashes” and “Taste of Blood” benefit from integrating blastier moments of unhinged aggression and speed into the fray. “Infected Soul” is not quite as assured and compact as its counterparts, yet its redeeming elements include Méndez cutting loose with some infectious basslines during a satisfying jam section towards the song’s climax.

As expected the album is immaculately produced, a balanced mix allowing clarity and breathing space for each instrument, the sonic template warm and welcoming, far removed from the harsh clinical elements and brickwalling that can mar some modern death metal recordings. Méndez skillfully handles bass and guitars duties, with regular Opeth band mate Frederik Akesson contributing the majority of the album’s solos. The guitar work is solid and understated. Méndez doesn’t overplay his hand and the groove-laden and subtly complex rhythms drive the dependable riffs. Unheralded drummer Jordi Farré (Cruciamentum) is not to be discounted, adding plenty of creative pizzazz and complexity to compliment the typically rich and expressive basslines of Méndez. The whole package is tightly crafted and slickly performed and although overall the writing doesn’t quite reach higher levels of esteem, there’s much to like and ample groundwork for White Stones to build on.

Escaping his comfort zone, Méndez has ventured bravely out on his own, exploring his cultural heritage and deathlier impulses, while sidestepping the trap of sounding like a blatant retread of his main band’s past glories. There’s both a familiarity and freshness to the material. Though initially the songs didn’t perhaps resonate as strongly as I hoped, the album has been an increasingly addictive grower with plenty of substance and bite. Overall, it’s a positive first chapter in what I’m hoping is an ongoing journey for White Stones.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 271 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast
Website: facebook.com/WhiteStonesOfficial
Released Worldwide: March 13th, 2020

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