Wednesday, 29 March 2017

REVIEW: Whitehorse/Upyr - "Split"

By: Daniel Jackson

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 14/02/2017
Label: Vendetta Records

Split LP’//DD track listing:

1). Whitehorse - Settled Dust
2). Upyr - Rise of the Mighty Tyrant
3). Upyr - Webs of Sorrow

The Review:

Split albums are a difficult thing to do well. The issues you’re likely to run into with them are usually one of the following: either one band is obviously the better of the two, or the bands aren’t great counterparts stylistically. The split we’re discussing here, from Australia’s Whitehorse and Bulgaria’s Upyr, doesn’t suffer massively from either issue. Neither band is drastically better than the other either, but they are different enough that you’ll likely prefer one over the other. And really that’s what will either make or break this experience for you: are you able to enjoy the shift in styles from one band to the other over the course of the whole album? My short answer is yes, but with some caveats.

Whitehorse is a very stalwart, consistent death/doom band. They stay largely in their preferred lane, and take a more subtle and nuanced approach to evolving their lone, 19 minute track. The changes aren’t stark or abrupt, but measured and carefully considered. “Settled Dust” maintains a fairly uniform tempo throughout, and a pretty bleak and harsh tone, which carries things through the first half. It’s all about massive chords and downbeats. The drumming gets slightly busier at certain points, and there is some effective use of droning noise in the background for the sake of adding extra tension, but otherwise things continue on at a slow, steady pace.

At about half way through the song, the emotional vibe changes gears and the song becomes more melancholy and sorrowful. Accompanied by pensive strings, the song shifts its character, but remains tied to the music that leads up to it through its glacially slow tempo. The songs begins to dissipate, as layers are stripped away until the last bit of noise is snuffed out, like someone blowing out a candle. Preferences being what they are, Whitehorse’s contribution is less adventurous (as we’re about to get into), but ultimately more satisfying in my case.

Upyr’s material is a bit more out there. “Rise of the Mighty Tyrant” begins as something of a traditional 80s doom song. The riff is slow but buoyant, with something of straight up rock n’ roll personality. But after that, the songs vary between sludge and a southern-style variation of it, doom, and even black metal. To say that vocalist Brodnik tries around a dozen or so vocal styles over the course of the Upyr’s 21 minutes of album time would not be an exaggeration. That they pull all of this off reasonably well is pretty damned impressive, but also gets to the heart of why I prefer Whitehorse’s side of the album.

To put it bluntly: Upyr puts out a vibe that they’re more interested in trying things out for the sake of having fun than they are in putting together something that always plays to their strengths as musicians and performers. There’s nothing wrong with that mindset, but it also risks the end result being a hit or miss experience. That’s what this is. There’s a lot of cool shit going on here, but some of it falls short of what they were aiming for.

Upyr’s strong suit is as a heavy, rhythmically diverse black and doom metal band with a hint of mid-90s goth metal as they are towards the end of “Rise of the Mighty Tyrant” and again in the very early and then later half of “Webs of Sorrow”. Embracing those strengths going forward would give them plenty to occupy themselves with creatively, while focusing on what they’re best at when jumping from style to style.

When considered as a whole, there are a lot more that hits rather than misses, and the album rewards you throughout. There’s something to be said for contrasting a band so orthodox and sure of themselves against a band that with a partial identity crisis; though you could argue that Upyr’s constant genre hopping and vocal histrionics ARE its identity, which is fair. But between each band, there more than enough here to warrant a solid recommendation. There’s just too much that works overall to be denied.

Whitehorse/Upyr” is available here