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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Verwüstung - Tunnel Ghosts (2013)

Band: Verwüstung
Country: San Francisco, California
Style: Blackgaze/Drone-Doom
Label: Independent

Verwüstung is the long standing solo project of Chris M. Broyles of Airs. While his work with that band has primarily produced some more dreamy shoegaze, dream pop, and post-punk (as well as the occasional black and doom metal), his work here has been much less accessible. With the release of this album, we see Broyles moving even further away from accessibility than even his previous releases have been.
Listening back to the project's past releases, there's been a strange progression that has occurred. Obviously, like Broyles' other band Airs, the band has started from black metal but has evolved into something else. In the case of Airs, a lot of it came from in inclusion of Aaron Kelley on vocals, which really completed that shoegaze and dreamy pop style change that was happening on early releases from that band. In the case of this project though, the style has become far more alienating over each release. Starting in a pretty aggressive, but atmospheric, black metal sound on When The Light Broke The Stars, Humanity Rejected Us and then gradually turning into something that was closer to a fusion of blackgaze and drone music. Whenever I listen to I First Saw You On That Snowy Night and Couldn't Shake An Overwhelming Feeling of Sadness, I find myself thinking that it's the sort of sound Alcest might have sounded like if Neige had taken the band into a more drone oriented sound after Écailles de Lune. This release proved to be the project's most ambitious and abstract sounding album to date, and if only because of that, I was quite impressed.
Each of the four tracks that make up this release bring a very interesting sound to the table. Though the clear highlight for this album is the opening flourish showcased on Camellias In Bloom, the other three tracks each showcase a more single-minded, I guess would be the best way to describe it, approach; whereas that opening track is more like a good sampler of what the rest of the album has in store for you. From the opening acoustic guitar plucks to the droning doom chords and then the aggressive black metal, there's a great sense of fluidity in the track which just tops twenty-five minutes in length. While long songs have never been an issue in this project, it's easily the most cohesive and dynamic track that I've heard Broyles write/perform for the project. The last third of the track really does descend into the droning atmospherics that the project is more "known" for. Then there's the following three songs, starting with Dancing Souls, which is a very simple, clean guitar oriented instrumental. It's short, and works as a nice breather between the hefty opening track and No Haven, a brutal blast metal song. Despite being the most metal based track on the album, it was almost surprising to hear a few moments that transcended above simple brutality and aggression and brought out more melody. The album's closing track is the Neutral Milk Hotel song Holland, 1945. Personally, I had never heard the original song before but having listened to it in order to be able to comment on it, I can tell you that there's a very wide gap between the original and this cover. Taking the more up-beat indie rock sound of the original and just dismantling it into a harsh, droning, and intense piece of abstraction. I can definitely say that it's closer to drone-doom than anything else Broyles has done, but it's also a piece of music that takes pleasure in putting the listener in misery. For how slow and just stone-cold it is, it makes no concessions at trying to win you over.
Personally, with the exception of the last track, I thought this was the project's strongest release to date. It really encompassed a little bit of what the project had accomplished on previous releases, but made it darker, more melancholic, and all the more abstract in some cases. It's definitely not for everyone, but I found it's alienating quality somewhat endearing, so if you can break through that extremely tough crust, you'll probably dig this as well.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Camellias In Bloom

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