White Walls - Grandeur (2020)
Romanian prog metal band White Walls released Grandeur on the 23rd of October, and it quickly became one of our favorite releases of the year. Perhaps we have a slight bias towards albums with severe-stank-face-inducing riffs and perhaps we like counting weird rhythms a bit too much. But that should not distract you away from the fact that the album is incredibly fun to listen to for anyone. There is a perfect balance between mellow atmospheric sections and brutal breakdowns, between the drummer's unconventional ghost note snare grooves and 4-chord power chord choruses, and as the band says, "between restlessness and restraint."
Since their 2013 release, the band seems to have matured a lot. The difference between the music is impossible not to notice. Notably, Grandeur has a larger variety of different sounds and structures than the earlier releases. However, it's also cool to see, for example, the production difference. The sound is much more open or wide in Grandeur, as opposed to the almost compressed sound in Escape Artist. In addition, the artwork is much more expressive and professional. With such a progression, we can see no scenario that White Walls doesn't find itself among the ranks of Opeth, Haken, Leprous, etc. In fact, the music is already there! Listen now on all platforms so that you will have a fun story to tell at bars about having known a famous band from the start.
1. False Beliefs (01:38)
Before the second song hits you in the face with a djent-y guitar action, the arpeggiated guitars of "False Beliefs" create an ethereal atmosphere with a marvelous production of layerings. When the whole progression comes together with the angelic falsettos of the vocalist Eugen Brudaru, you experience an album opener that wouldn't be expected from a prog-metal/metalcore band — considering the rest of the songs that only has snippets of this kind of composition. Captured by the hope that spreads with every note, we're headed to the next piece singing "And the sun will shine again..."
2. Eye For An I (04:45)
Much like the title, the song opens with a dramatic guitar riff. The introduction of the drums is powerful and in a way, signifies the relentless sound of White Walls with the piercing snare hits. In just one section, lead singer Brudaru achieves to showcase both the heavy and the calm sides of his voice with growls immediately followed by catchy chorus melodies (a trademark of Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt). The lyrics can be interpreted as a critique of humanity's dogmatic beliefs, with references to religion. The highlight of the song is perhaps how effortlessly the band can switch gears for each section and the resulting dynamic range helps the song become an energetic and interesting ride. The band also released an animated video clip of the song which you can listen to below:
3. Home Is On The Other Side (05:04)
"Home is on the Other Side" is a song that has successfully balanced dark, heavy growls to higher-pitched, softer vocals. To form an atmosphere that is filled with despair and anger, which can be sensed from both the repetition in the lyrics and the music itself, the song uses a varying seven-string guitar riff in the background as it transforms between these harsh vocals and more melodic sounds. The band has been recognized with its diligent riffs and chords, and the fall in the 1:58 minute mark reminds the listener of the celebrated band Machine Head’s "Locust", backing up this claim. An interlude takes place in the exact middle of the song, highlighting the 5/4 beat of the drums, and this interlude acts as a great transition to the second section of the song, which is especially impressive. The vocals climb to high pitches with perfect ease, while the lyrics only add to the sentimentality of the whole section. The song then comes to an end with the addition of the growls that were dominating the song in the beginning to leave the listener amazed by the journey.
4. Holy Worse (04:50)
Like the songs that came before it, the listener is immediately absorbed into the action with an energetic guitar riff and a powerful drum beat. Although this is quite common in the scene, promising bands like White Walls give us hope by leaning more on the "progressive" side for the intros. Although we couldn't attempt to growl, the singable melodies on top of a very subtle 9/4 emphasized by the crash cymbals are a perfect example of how to create beauty inside complexity. The band continues to play around with different time signatures (like interchanging 10/8 and 4/4) and the sheer chaos reaches a whole another level with Scrioșteanu's technical prowess over the drums. So in the end, you find yourself singing along with the chorus and headbanging frantically with the snare and the toms.
5. Velvet (04:56)
"Velvet" starts off with a guitar riff that is repeated in different paces and different tones throughout the song. This repetition is not, in any way, monotonous as it is layered with the drumbeat and the vocals: it’s actually quite interesting to see how one pattern can be used in such original ways, and also to see the way the band uses phasing in the intro. As this pattern continues, the sudden introduction of the drums and the drop-tuned guitar adds to the fierce atmosphere of the song. During the second minute, the melody takes a darker turn and a heavy growl is added to the riff. It’s understandable for the audience to compare the band with Opeth as these growls are integrated into their songs in similar skilled ways that are worth praise. The song, overall, is motivating in a way, as it prompts the listener to give in to this heavy atmosphere and the repeating lyrics telling him to “Feel the storm inside.”
6. Speaking In Tongues (02:41)
Shortest piece except for the opener, the intro of the 6th track has one of the most evil riffs on the album. White Walls' signature switch between growls and tenor vocals are also apparent on "Speaking in Tongues" — but it exemplifies how the background also goes back and forth between a distorted/busy background to a more atmospheric slow one. The clean parts are mostly controlled by guitar and bass dueting on a groove — generally doing polyrhythms or rhythmically modulating throughout Grandeur. The short nature of the song integrates with the political-rebel embedded lyrics, being a coherent song that's unified by the demonic riffs and the philosophical ideas that make up the riffs.
7. Starfish Crown (05:32)
This track was another single from the album, and it is easy to see why. The intro feels like it came straight out of a Leprous record with the drums on the verse at the level of Baard Kolstad himself (as good of a compliment as it gets for any drummer). Whether it is the 3:4 polyrhythm of the intro or the different subdivisions the instruments present in the other sections, the rhythmical complexities converge with an overall groove that anyone can headbang to. The song also features a long and calm interlude which achieves to both carry out the musical ideas from the other sections and also stand out on its own. It adds a progressive flair to the song composition-wise and makes the listener realize exactly how strong those ideas were. The band released an official video for the single, check it out!
8. Locked-In Syndrome (04:28)
"Locked-in Syndrome" is, with its title, lyrics, and music, a quite relatable song. The song directly starts off with the fast beat of a double kick drum and the heavy guitar riff that continues throughout the song. The vocals in this song are also worth mentioning as the harsh and soft vocals sing in unison in certain parts of the song, though one doesn’t override the other, and they really highlight the lyrics “So clean I can never forget it / This boring life” and the desperateness they carry. Though these lyrics also carry religious connotations with the lines “Father! What a fucking mess! / What have I done?!” it’s hard not to connect the current events and the lockdown with the song. Although countless bands have tried to incorporate similar feelings into their songs this year, we believe that White Walls has treated the subject in their own original way.
9. Month's End (04:19)
First thing, I don't understand how the intro and the main riff fit together so well. The intro is a swinging 2-chord synth progression that you may find in a neo-soul record. Out of nowhere, a coupled drum and guitar riff enters, which is why I was reminded of Lamb of God. The guitar contributes to the rhythm, and the drums contribute to the melody. The vocals glide on the soundwaves and contribute one more layer of raunch to your raunchy headbang. The verse follows a rhythmic structure I've never heard before. Each 4-bar cycle follows a 4-3-3-3 pattern, which is unconventional in itself. Then, the last cycle's last bar is shortened by half a beat to make an abrupt transition. Out of all these, the most interesting part of the song is the bridge. As the song slows down into a suspenseful and modern groove, electronic additions carry the song into a different level. Leprous has been attempting something similar in their most recent records, but it's more interesting to hear it in a more metal-oriented record. Playing drums under such a part is hard because you can't really know what will best fit the atmosphere. And you really don't want a simple boom-clack beat. Props to the drummer, Scrioşteanu, for that!
10. Descent (06:47)
"Descent" is my nomination for the new addition to Spotify's "Kickass Metal" playlist. In terms of the rest of the album, the song is pretty straightforward. The first part is a regular Intro-Kickass Verse-Softer Chorus metal song. The first bridge takes us to a breakdown that embodies how well the album was produced. To say the least, I was surprised to hear the bass so clearly! Though that might also have been because the band is putting a great emphasis on the bass on all tracks. The hi-hats imply triplets in this part, but it's not immediately noticeable. The next bridge enters a slo-mo shuffle, so the triplets may be a reference to this part. How the snare is displaced in the shuffle is worthy of a mention. Again, Scrioşteanu made a more laid back part interesting without ruining the atmosphere. This also connects to the beginning of the next track; it also starts with a shuffle minus the laid back atmosphere.
11. Marche Funèbre (08:57)
Weeks ago, I watched a video-essay about the art of a closing track, which states the smart choice of the band's decision on putting this song to the end — or composing this song specifically as a closer. About the last track, it was said that "the mellow and balanced song that shouldn't offer more of the band, just an integrative one makes the endings perfect". Thus, White Walls has kept their most powerful weapon to the last song, where we get to hear one of the best vocal performances and compositional techniques. The use of melodic guitar playing and delayed riffing makes up one of the best moments of the album—along with the funky bass underlying the verses. Having of the strongest bridges and choruses on the album, "Marche Funebre" delivers the most emotional performance, even though they step a bit out from their experimental roots. The dynamic range of the parts is perfectly arranged, specifically on this track, making the dramatic effect of the choruses and mellow outro. It is worth to realize that their music didn't necessarily get "softer", the double kicks and baritone riffs still apparent; but now it is clear that atmospheric composing can change the whole feel of the song with just a 3-note melody like this one.
As the song resolves and loses all the tension of distorted and heavy instrumentation, the narrator has also given up on their long fight to help the dignified to let go of their battle, their never-ending sorrow. They just show how wounded they are, how wounded they'll be. But now, they are long gone.