Review Summary: A further hybridisation of Unfurl's sludge roots yields satisfyingly cataclysmic results.
I can't suggest that Unfurl have sat comfortably since their 2016 release, Deathbed
. Rather than expound upon the direction they seemed to be heading (spacey, sludgy doom), on The Waking Void
the quartet have moved their sound into the other oft-travelled path – the sort which sees the sludge acting in tandem alongside another form of extreme music, usually black metal or hardcore punk. Taking this into account,the first five tracks (after mysterious ambient intro 'Ancestral Spirit') rattle by in a snarling, grinding blur, and looking at other stalwarts of the crossover-sludge world, this is perhaps the least surprising outcome. However, there's a good blend of influences on show here, and at the risk of participating in some unforgivably gratuitous namedropping, I'd say that if you start with the blackened ferocity of Plebeian Grandstand's earlier stuff, mix with some of the low-string abuse of a Love Sex Machine record and add a little of the rapid-fire power-chord riffs groove/sludge outfit Raging Speedhorn pedalled in the early 2000s, you've probably got something pretty akin to how The Waking Void
carries its first 15 or so minutes. What may be missing when compared with their contemporaries is a smidge of unpredictability; track structures are surprisingly simplistic in this phase of the album and there's a lot of repetition, which does diminish the sense of danger a fraction despite the unflinching display of power on show. Regardless, as an impenetrable melange of black metal, hardcore, sludge, deathcore and the transitional favourite, dark ambient, it can certainly be a little hard to figure out where you are as time goes on - especially as the vocals, traditionally the most humanly tangible part of a piece of music, find themselves shrieking and roaring away into the cacophony and only becoming distinct from its backing on fleeting words and phrases. It's a lot to take in by the time that the breakdown of 'Withering Aeons' breathes its last (which by the way is just nasty
) and wisdom dictates that they'd get maybe half an hour out of it before it becomes too much effort to remain enjoyable. So 48 minutes? I dunno.
But never underestimate the virtues of a change of pace. It's one of those things as a reviewer that's quite easy to fall back on, when one starts waxing lyrical that ”[such and such] is an album of two halves”
, but the dreamy, soaring 'Black Widow Hourglass' precedes a real freshening up of the album. Albeit strongest on the stunning 'Lazarus Reflex', the overwhelmingly murky facade of The Waking Void
is enlivened with the introduction of brighter, sharper blackgaze, as layer after layer of tremolo-picked melody forces its way through the fog. By throwing a spanner into the works of their hitherto MO, Unfurl give themselves new avenues to explore with regards to track writing, and many highlights in the final five tracks come from when the listener isn't being pounded in the face with riff after nasty riff – for example, the rather lovely bass noodling on 'Lazarus Reflex', or the unsettling jangle of 'Guest of the Cavern/Mind Altar'. It should be noted, however, that while the nature of The Waking Void
changes marginally, at no point does a change feel shoehorned in - sparkling fancies and pauses for breath may become more prevalent, but it's still very much a sludgy album for sludgy people ('Begrudging Lucidity', one of the heaviest tracks on the album and one of the main proponents here of Gaza-style dissonance, sits immediately after 'Lazarus Reflex' after all). The fact that closer 'Blue Rose' even has an impact at all
, let alone the sense of awe that its climax elicits from this reviewer, is testament to how Unfurl appreciate the dangers of stagnation and how, little-by-little, ideas can be strewn in to keep what would otherwise be an exhausting album interesting.