Review Summary: For a short period of time, it seemed like whales were the seal of maritime prog metal approval. Unfortunately, Whalesong mostly kills that stigma with a chaotic and confusing sound.
It's been a good, long time since terms such as "Whalecore" were tossed around to ironically implicate some sort of link between albums like Gojira's From Mars to Sirius
and Mastodon's Leviathan
, but to tell the truth, I never minded the gag of a term when it was being used for albums of high quality. So, for whatever reason, smart artists were making albums about whales - big deal. The similarity of subject matter was at least a little funny, if not a little cool, given ideas like an even more grizzly Moby Dick, and the end product was worthwhile. So now, half way through 2012, sitting, listening to She Was The Universe's debut EP Whalesong
, with a cover to complement the name, it's hard not to think about the album next to those progressive metal staples.
However, while its whale-bearing predecessors rely more heavily on groove and careful instrumental organization, Whalesong
is driven primarily by light melodies interspersed with chaos. And quite a bit of that chaos comes from the vocal and percussion sections. At times it's easy for the tracks on Whalesong
to feel too busy because, quite honestly, they are. While there's enough going on with a guitar melody with a light melody reminiscent of the album's title, an extremely aggressive drum beat will overlay and overpower it. And if that's not enough to drown out the sound, monotonous growled vocals generally overshadow even the extraordinary bombast of the drums.
Oddly enough, though, in isolation, it's clear that all of the individual instrumental tracks of Whalesong
are quite good. The guitar melodies to "Whalesong" could be moving if they were paired with a mixed-down and relaxed drum beat (and it shows right around the 2:50 mark), and the same could be said of "Progeny of Panthalassa" if it stayed more in the range of the downtempo oceanic groove begun not long after a minute into the track, rather than launching into low, uninteresting chugs. Though, perhaps even more perplexing are the vocal layerings levied onto the listener not long after. While not seen anywhere else on the EP, the end of "Progeny" features a cacophonous interchange of clean, harsh, and vocoder-processed vocals within the span of seconds. Rather than producing any sort of effect or eliciting any sort of personal response to the sound, it truly just sounds confused and unnecessary.
But, saving the best for last, perhaps closing track "The Amber Road" shows She Was The Universe at their most consistent and most promising. And it's not hard to see why - the track follows all of the above pointers, letting low riffs create a current for the lead guitar melodies to drive on at a coast while percussion mellows out and throws up small hills for the musical vehicle to traverse. Sure, there are a few moments where the song picks up in tempo, but it's more in the vein of a traditional breakdown and the instruments seem to be working together rather than trying to outdo each other. It's this track that gives these Russian hopefuls a speck of interest as a post-metal group, but on the whole, as a self-proclaimed progressive metal release, Whalesong
falls well short.