Review: Wills Dissolve – Echoes

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Hail science. Hail the endless void.

We first heard about Wills Dissolve around these parts when a wooden object/actor premiered a track off their debut back in 2018. Despite using nonsense words like “Opethian” and “Texas,” he stirred some excitement for the band’s brand of progressive death metal that didn’t (and still doesn’t) shirk away from incorporating all manner of genres in service of their tales.

And rather grand tales they were; songs on the debut often exceeded 10 minutes and smoothly transitioned into one another, with their titles further underlining the idea of one long narrative. It may not surprise you, then (though it may make you wary), to learn that they went all-in with this on sophomore Echoes, which consists of a single track clocking in at close to 32 minutes.

I’m not a fan of this album format, but I’m happy I gave it a shot anyway, because I found myself intrigued and, after a couple more spins, downright hooked. By and large, Wills Dissolve has stuck to their mix of prog, death, black, and doom metal that frequently employs clean vocals next to a devastating growl. I can’t personally attest to the Opethness of it all, but I’ll take Stick’s word for it. Added to the formula this time around are a dash of ambient and a heavier reliance on all-out prog rock; Echoes is prone to transition into lush, acoustic passages that recall works from the ’70s and evoke verdant greens rather than the blackness of space, which is where the album’s story takes place. Specifically, it puts us aboard a spaceship and into the mind of its sole passenger.

We begin, of course, with a rather lengthy intro part. This is both exactly what I expected and a source of vexation. Story-wise, this part covers a large chunk of the protagonist’s journey, which he spends in hypersleep, so it makes sense that it’s not exactly eventful, but maybe it goes on for a tad too long. The payoff, however, is rather immense, as churning guitars and the aformentioned growl mark the moment where the oppressive loneliness and the full weight of his mission hit the “hero” with crushing heaviness.

What is his mission? As the killer artwork from Adam Burke shows, our man is off to investigate a black hole and confirm or deny humanity’s hopes that it is a wormhole leading to new bits of inhabitable space. After the moment of dread, optimism wins out, signified by the band’s first venture into a soft prog part. Everything is probably going to work out, and if not, so be it—he’s not particularly keen on returning.

His strenuous belief in success is invoked in him partly via the ship’s AI, which is given its own voice, and with the band’s love of old school prog rock, of course there’s only one way to do that—a vocoder. I must admit that I initially found this incredibly goofy, but since then, the ship’s vocal lines have become some of my favourite parts, particularly when their often cheerful nature clashes with the protagonist. Just such a moment occurs shortly before the ship enters the black hole and the music ramps up to an absolute cacophony which climaxes in a moment of near silence— they actually make it through!—[WTF spoiler alert! -Roldy] slowly and skillfully winding back down. Here, on the other side, is where we find them at the beginning of the excerpt that was released in lieu of a preview track.

The band remains at their maximum heaviness for a while as the traveler describes what just happened. Complete disintegration and subsequent reassembly seem to be an unpleasant experience, but as consciousness returns, he is able to take stock of his surroundings, and the music becomes softer again as he is awestruck by his survival and his surroundings… and the realization that he should resign himself to death, as the ship seems in no state to continue. This is not the final volta in the story; there’s more drama yet. But I’d like to leave something to discover for those of you who take the journey—apart from the mostly very awesome music, which I feel I’ve hardly done justice.

If you liked the debut, this is a no-brainer. If you were on the fence about it, definitely check this one out. It’s not perfect—I sometimes wish I could move sliders to make some parts longer and others shorter—but a lot of the minor flaws have been ironed out. It’s a quite different take from the other sci-fi/space-themed death metal we heard this year, and it may take a couple spins to click, but I’d say Wills Dissolve can more than keep up with the competition.

Echoes will be released by Hypnotic Dirge Records on August 28.

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