Review Summary: Not the magnum opus it could have been, but a thrilling witch house album nonetheless.
White Ring are an odd band to critique because in ten years, they’ve released exactly one EP, a splattering of singles (including a collaboration with oOoOO), but absolutely nothing else – until now, that is. That’s right, Gate of Grief
marks the witch house band’s full-length debut, an odd prospect for an outfit that has been around for a decade. Nevertheless, they made a seamless re-entry into the spotlight with the chilling single ‘Leprosy’, a two-and-a-half minute explosion of electronic and house elements bolstered by a NIN ‘Heresy’ industrial groove beat that felt evil to its very core. It set quite the precedent: Gate of Grief
would need to be equally as unsettling, matching the monumental tone set by that song’s atmosphere. Easy, right？
Ridiculous expectations aside, Gate of Grief
actually sort of succeeds in living up to its own hype. The whole record, which comes in at fourteen tracks, doesn’t have an equally blistering effect from start to finish. However, it does bring some different styles to the table, at times putting its nose to the grindstone (the gritty beat of ‘Nothing’), while at other times losing itself in harrowing ambient space, such as the primarily whispered/spoken ‘Low.’ Gate of Grief
picks up the most steam mid-record, gearing up with the cinematic war feel of ‘Puppy’ and continuing through ‘Chained’ – a song whose eerie and layered harmonizing atop of an insanely infectious rhythm feels like the beginning of a coven ritual – or a march straight to the gates of hell. These are the sorts of pictures that White Ring paints: damned souls, fascist dictatorships, satanic symbols, and essentially all things bleak.
With that said, the message occasionally gets lost. The stylistic variety propels each track to stand comfortably on its own, but when those lines are blurred into an album
, things get a bit more messy. Tracks such as ‘Close Yr Eyes’ feel a little too streamlined to fit in comfortably alongside the rest of the moments here, opting for a straight-up dance/techno/pop vibe that doesn’t mesh well at all with the tones of despair that Gate of Grief
works hard at setting up elsewhere. Additionally, what works on each song individually becomes tiresome across a span of forty eight minutes – the glitch beats, the fragmented vocals, the shrill synth spikes – they all begin to morph into one indistinguishable entity. It’s for this reason that you could extract just about any single moment from Gate of Grief
and have it sound earth-shattering, but then place it back into the context of the record and be bored by it again. It’s an odd sensation – and not one that is necessarily a damning fault – but one that prevents White Ring’s debut from realizing its full atmospheric potential.
Gate of Grief
is an album that hits hard and fast. The surreal, otherworldly aura combined with debased, grimy beats and shrill, harmonized vocals is likely to make for an impactful first listen. It’s not the sort of album that reveals itself over time or offers layered meanings, though – what you hear is mostly what you’ll get. That’s a tad disappointing for a band with as much talent and pent up disdain as White Ring, because they seem to be capable of crafting something even deeper; darker
. This record is very Crystal Castles
of them, which is altogether a compliment and a criticism. It’s witch-house pop
. You’ll find plenty to enjoy here undoubtedly, but there is still unrealized potential within White Ring’s arsenal waiting to be discovered. Once they find it and those stars align, they have it in them to make something truly terrifying.