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WitTR now at crossroads in career - where to next? - 83%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, April 23rd, 2009

Like "Two Hunters", this album plays as a four-part epic soundtrack to an unmade movie. And the music certainly is epic: "Black Cascade" is black metal all the way through yet there is a grand, majestic and sweeping quality in the music beyond the shower of BM guitars, the hard-hitting percussion and harsh croaking voices. Given the band's commitment to living sustainably off the land and the music's nature-oriented themes, you might think WitTR should go for an approach emphasising misty atmospheres, constant guitar-generated rainfall and a raw, primitive sound - but the musicians have instead opted for a very clean sound that emphasises the multi-layered and spacious music and the various non-BM genres that mesh well with the black metal. There may be aspects of doom, folk and blues that appear in the music, sometimes in subtle ways. Blink or sneeze at the wrong time and you may miss the extra non-BM embellishments.

Opener "Wanderer above the Sea of Fog" sets the template for what follows: sweeping and expansive BM mixed with elements from other genres (the music here sometimes sounds a bit like Drudkh), a lot of anger and aggression thanks to those crabby croaking vocals, and a clear edge to the band's sound. The drumming especially is clear and clean. "Ahrimanic Trance" continues in a similar way but with barely-there background effects and (perhaps synth-generated) trumpets in the build-up to an early climax that features a brief rhythmic passage of exotic bell-like tones. The music isn't especially trance-like but before the 10th minute it can be intensely euphoric; after the 10th minute there is an interesting textured rhythm sequence that involves a spidery guitar unravel, solemn drumming with echo effects and a tense mood in the surrounding music.

"Ex Cathedra" has such a cavernous and sinister feel coupled with a surprisingly catchy melody that a film soundtrack commission must only be matter of time for the band. This track also features an ambient section of icy cold winter chill, quivering guitars and melancholy synth that give a brief impression of the band having stepped into a rainforest fairyland during winter season. "Crystal Ammunition" superficially features more of the same fast and frenzied black metal that has so far dominated the album but sometimes there is a slower, steady pace and in the background there is a clean-toned instrument which later turns out to be a steel-stringed acoustic guitar (probably a dobro, this is my guess) during a quiet period. Eventually the music settles into a majestic, dreamy, lullaby-like coda with an epic Western horse opera feel that almost overpowers the listener. The sound is not that cavernous and the desolation is more sensed than felt - the music, though it has slowed down, still moves a little too fast for the feeling to come through the layer of melody and rhythm.

The tracks are not so individual as they were on "Two Hunters" where at least there was an extra singer. Each track on "Black Cascade" is like a roller-coaster ride of fast and slow instrumental music passages and bits of ambient or some other genre. I find it hard to shake off the feeling there's something a bit manipulative in some of the tracks, as if there has to be something in the music for everyone: a bit of ambient (tick) in one track, a bit of experimental (tick) in another track, a bit of country and western (tick) in another and so on. Perhaps WitTR are trying in their own way to branch out from what they have been doing up to now and want to tackle new (for them) BM fusions. The particular kind of country and western that featues in the last track is similar in sound to the country and western music another Southern Lord label band Earth used on "The Bees made Honey in the Lion's Skull". No surprise to know that Randall Dunn who produced that album also co-produced "Black Cascade" with WitTR and Don McGreevy and Steve Moore of Earth appear in the credits.

Apart from the additional non-BM music which may have been brought in under Randall Dunn's influence, there is not a lot of difference musically between "Black Cascade" and the previous "Two Hunters". The band could try exploring and experimenting with elements of their essential BM style that could enhance the nature theme. They could try incorporating more field recordings of nature and farming work into the music and use the guitars to simulate rainfall more. (The Australian rainforest BM act Striborg does this a lot.) I think WitTR have come to a point in their career where they can choose to continue as they are but risk falling into a rut or adopt a different approach that might lose them some fans but open the band's horizons. Being on the Southern Lord label, they can see what Sunn0))) and Earth have done with their music and take some inspiration from those examples while maintaining their eco-BM identity.