Review: Białywilk – Próżnia

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The good news keeps rolling in for atmoblack fans in 2021. Those who follow the loosely defined genre will likely have heard the excellent Omnes Nihil EP from Chicago black metallers Vukari last month (if not, go give it a listen. I’ll wait). This surprise release was just the latest in a series of excellent albums this year from folks like Woman Is the Earth, Wolves in the Throne Room, Ulvik, and others. While Omnes Nihil was gestating, Vukari frontman Marek Cimochowicz was going through some life changes and furiously writing more tunes—which brings us to Białywilk.

This new solo project from Cimochowicz embodies the best aspects of the names listed above. Białywilk (meaning “white wolf” in Polish—if the name made your eyebrows go up, you can put them back down) succeeds in bringing on that emotional frisson to which all creators of atmospheric metal aspire. Próżnia, which means “vacuum” or “void,” was years in gestation as well. Emerging late last month as a purely independent release, the album is unadorned and mostly speaks for itself. However, I was curious about the timing of the release alongside Vukari’s latest effort. I reached out to Cimochowicz for more context, and he responded quickly despite being in the middle of a move from Chicago to Los Angeles.Marek Cimochowicz of Bialywilk standing on the seashore.

“These songs came about after I wrote a bunch of very angry and depressive songs for a different project. So these came out as more therapeutic and uplifting in contrast,” he says. “A couple of these songs are a bit old and held over to fit in with the right project. The pandemic definitely helped push it forward.” Cimochowicz describes the album as “spacey and introspective,” with a through-line of the search for self within the vast emptiness of the universe. The album also stays closer to Cimochowicz’s roots, drawing more heavily on his Polish origins. “The band name is a play on where my family’s from in Poland,” he says,  “which is the city of Białystok. So, ‘biały wilk’ is stylized ‘Białywilk’ to pay tribute to that.”

The album very much captures a certain wayward feeling. Barreling out of the gate with “Lachesis,” Próżnia feels at times like a fall from great height. Cimochowicz isn’t credited with every instrument—drummer John Kerr of Noltem and others handles drums while Vukari bandmate Spenser Morris plays bass and handled the album’s production. Despite these other players, Cimochowicz says he would like to keep Białywilk “a solo project in the sense of keeping creative control and writing the music exactly as I’d like. However, I’m also interested in playing live… I’m eager to keep going and find more people to work with/inspire me.” While this raises some questions about the future of Vukari, there’s reason to sit back and enjoy the present. Tracks like “Our Shared Fear,” probably the album’s highlight and propelled by Kerr’s blasts, contains soaring riffs and passages where the album’s ethereal production allows the songwriting to breathe.

Similarly, the album is punctuated in the middle and end by “Próżnia I” and “Próżnia II.” While these two ambient tracks don’t break any new ground sonically, they do create a nice caesura between Próżnia‘s front and back halves, allowing “Will and Representation” and “Merkavah” to set off in a new direction. The closer, “Próżnia II,” sounds like a spacewalk. Like any good cliffhanger, it seems to foretell the sequel without giving too much away. “I’ve already been writing for a follow up because I can’t stop writing music! It’s a gift and a curse,” Cimochowicz says.

Where Vukari stake out compositional ground that is more martial and straightforwardly “black metal,” Próżnia leans more heavily into atmosphere and allows for moments that feel much more cosmic. There’s not a ton of daylight between the latter and former projects—yet. But with Cimochowicz now based in LA, and more music already in the offing, it will be interesting to see which corners of the void Białywilk will explore next.

4/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

Próżnia is available now on Bandcamp.

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