Review: Unfurl – The Waking Void
Pedal to the post-metal.
Unfurl from Pittsburgh have released their second album, and according to the press text, The Waking Void is a stylistic change from their 2016 post-hardcore-leaning debut and promises an interesting blend of genres. Not having heard said album, I’m going into this wonderfully unencumbered, and I’m always keen on genre mixes. Let’s see what we’ve got.
The intro starts us off with the sounds of an accordion playing drawn-out notes that resemble breathing. It’s not long before more foreboding notes creep in, along with eerie, scratching ambient noises. Suddenly, “Ritual of Fire” bursts into life with confidently swaggering energy that reminds me of post-metal, but quickly takes a turn towards death metal territory. The sheer force of the production is a treat to listen to. While it’s the most concise song on the record, it nevertheless runs the gamut in terms of styles and tempos, hinting that Unfurl may indeed not be all that easy to pin down.
Sure enough, after an atmospheric interlude (there are several throughout the record), “Modern Day Prometheus” sets off on a wholly different trajectory that takes us through drawn-out atmospheric black metal before reeling in the tempo again and gradually changing course until we end up at a hardcore mosh part —all within the first half of the song. A far less subtle shift sees the second plummet into doom/sludge territory, wading through a bog of misery that leads into another interlude just before becoming tedious.
“Withering Aeons” continues this trend, consistently moving at a slower pace, but again, just before boredom sets in, the band switches things up enough to evoke the image of a writhing beast rather than a lumbering idiot. My only real gripe is the constant presence of the singer, which gets rather taxing in the long run.
(Tons of flashing images in this video!)
Once again, Unfurl seem to anticipate the listener’s feelings and meet them with a radical shift in “Black Widow Hourglass,” a soft, entrancing, shoegazey song with clean vocals and no distortion. This carries over into the intro of “Lazarus Reflex,” which keeps up the pensive pace even as more aggressive tones emerge again. I’d say we’re in atmospheric post-black metal territory here, replete with a fittingly blackened vocal approach. The quiet bridge part of the song marks the first time that somewhat positive, optimistic notes emerge, which continue to colour the song as it picks back up, and while they’re dropped again in favour of a sinister-sounding finale with big, booming drums, they are not forgotten, as we shall see later.
First though, there’s “Begrudging Lucidity,” the first three minutes of which hit hard with an engaging mix of post-metal, a bit of sludge, and big energy hardcore breakdowns. It bangs pretty hard, but as the second half of the song slows things down once again, I can’t help but feel that I’ve heard this before. Additionally, the placement of the song is a bit unfortunate, interrupting the development towards a more uplifting sound that had just begun. That doesn’t make this a bad song, but looking at the album as a whole, this is probably the one I’d soonest take the scissors to.
After one more interlude, the album launches into the closer “Blue Rose.” At first glance, this one does not seem to do anything new, until those uplifting (if somewhat melancholic) notes from earlier pop back up. Along with more black metal elements, this plunges the music into blackgaze territory, making for a grand emotional culmination. I can’t quite decide if it’s a triumphant one or one that accepts defeat, but it’s satisfying either way, feeling like something the album has been working towards this entire time.
The Waking Void is a well-structured album; the interludes help to make it feel like an uninterrupted journey towards a resolution, and for the most part, I’ve enjoyed the ride. The mix of styles is executed well, and I have no qualms recommending it to fans of post-metal and similarly genre-defying stuff. It’s not one for the impatient though, as sitting through the whole thing can be a bit of a slog at times. It would certainly benefit from some trimming here and there—”Begrudging Lucidity” would be fantastic if it was half as long, and a couple of other songs can drag a bit, too. After about five spins though, the album nonetheless keeps drawing me back in, and I’m already excited to see where they’ll take their sound next. Therefore, this earns a very solid
4 out ov 5 Flaming Toilets
Name your price for The Waking Void over at Bandcamp.