Metal Bulletin Zine (est. 2006) is a metal music zine (Seattle region), online and on paper. 160 issues so far.
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Sunday, March 4, 2018
Deathwhite (review by Matt Spall)
The music reviewer Matt Spall (U.K.) makes no mystery of the fact that he loves emotional, proggy music, whether it's more on the metal side or just on the rock side, too. He is often on the lookout for new music and albums that he can find an emotional side to explore. Here is his review of Deathwhite, an emotional, proggy band. How much does Matt love it?! Well, given his history, he probably is going to praise it from here to the high heavens and higher.
Album Title: For A Black Tomorrow
Label: Season of Mist
Date Of Release: 23 February 2018
On paper, everything about this record literally screams that I should love it.
For a start, the cover is wonderful; it is dark, moody and atmospheric, with that single black-cloaked figure walking through a barren, unforgiving graveyard. Then there’s the band themselves. We know that Deathwhite is comprised of three musicians and that they hail from Pennsylvania, USA. However, the band has gone to great lengths to keep their individual identities hidden from the outside world. As such, they remain steeped in mystery and intrigue.
Then there’s the description of the music itself in the PR material. According to the accompanying press bumph, Deathwhite tread the same path first trodden by the ‘dark metal torchbearers such as Anathema, My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost and Katatonia’. It goes on to suggest that the band combine the ‘melancholic depth of Ghost Brigade’, ‘a sense of drama that would fit Moonspell and a pinch of Amorphis…’
Those who know me and my personal tastes will know that all of these aforementioned names are very important to me. And so, this description truly set my pulse racing and o me extremely excited to delve headlong into the world of Deathwhite.
Unfortunately, not for the first time, the preceding hyperbole has led to disappointment. I just wish that Deathwhite had spent as much time on their music as they have on protecting their identity. Because, whilst there’s nothing intrinsically wrong per se with the music on the debut album, ‘For A Black Tomorrow’, doesn’t come close to rivalling any of the established acts mentioned above. I know that I am likely to be a little biased here, but it’s how I see it.
Instead, I’m left feeling very ‘meh’ towards a great chunk of this album, as it plods along professionally but distinctly unremarkably. I initially thought that my first impressions had perhaps been clouded by the fact that I was recovering from the tail end of flu and was therefore a little tired, jaded and simply not in the mood for listening to music objectively. So I tried a few times more over the past few days. And although I’ll admit that with a bit of repeated effort, I warm to the material a little more, I still fall short of loving it. And I can’t shake the feeling of being just a bit miffed by the fact that such important names in my musical life have been used so liberally to entice me into listening to this record.
Stylistically, Deathwhite plough more of a ‘Gothic’ dark rock furrow, a term used very loosely. And so of all the reference points, Ghost Brigade are the closest. I’d also add in the names of The Chant and latter-day Sentenced as more accurate markers, although again, Deathwhite come up way short of these sadly departed and much loved Finns. And yes, I am aware of the Ghost Brigade connection here before you ask.
What I think hampers Deathwhite the most is that for a band that wants to explore a melodic hard rock/metal sound, the melodies generally fall short, at least in my opinion anyway. I’m hard pressed to really remember any of the chosen hooks or choruses as they pass in a procession-like, orderly fashion. And while the word ‘depth’ crops up in the press release, I have to be honest and say that this is also lacking within many of the nine compositions that feature on ‘For A Black Tomorrow’.
Then there’s the chosen guitar tone which, to these ears, is neither one thing nor the other. Instead it hovers indecisively between a crunchy, robust metal tone and a weaker, more insipid style. I’m not the biggest fan of the vocals either, which come across as a bit flat and lifeless at times. I certainly don’t get a warm glow or chills as one of the unnamed trio sings.
But that’s enough of the negatives for the time being. Let’s instead focus on what I do like about this record, because there are a few things.
When Deathwhite get things right, they can make a very nice racket. For example, ‘For A Black Tomorrow’ starts off in strong fashion with one of the album’s true highlights, ‘The Grace of the Dark’. In fact, had the remainder of the album maintained this quality, the entire review would be a lot different in tone.
The opener kicks off with a nice mid-tempo stomp and pleasing riff, before being starkly replaced by plaintive vocals atop a gentle guitar melody. The melancholy feel that pervades both the heavier and quieter passages doesn’t feel forced or contrived at this point and when a heavier, more urgent rhythmic beat kicks in, I like the increased intensity.
I also like the inclusion of some elegant acoustic guitars within ‘Poisoned’, which bring with them a pleasant change of pace and dynamics, juxtaposing and complementing the heavier material. Plus I like ending to the song which shows a flash of excellence through a nice vocal melody.
‘Dreaming The Inverse’ is a pretty decent track too with a few nice riffs, some interesting percussion and it makes a good fist of delivering a melody which sticks a little more in the memory than most.
However, returning to the negativity again, too much of the material treads a more ‘average’ path. ‘Just Remember’ comes and goes with very little to commend it. ‘Contrition’ suffers from a paint-by-numbers feel with boring riffs as well as a vocal performance that sounds like it was forced and an up-hill struggle from start to finish. Then there’s ‘Eden’ which shows promise with an increase in atmospherics and layers of synths. Unfortunately, the chorus doesn’t make anywhere near the impact that it should and towards the end, there’s a weird, almost inexplicable discordant moment thrown into the mix. Instead of thinking ‘oh, that’s interesting’, I find myself thinking ‘what the hell was that’, and not in a good way.
It may sound like I’m being overly harsh on Deathwhite and their debut full-length ‘For A Black Tomorrow’. And maybe I am. But I just find it intensely frustrating when a band chock full of potential simply doesn’t deliver. Especially when there are so many truly excellent bands out there who would give their right arm for a shot, but are continually overlooked or marginalised. I won’t give up on Deathwhite because I know there is something much better buried deep inside them somewhere. But if album number two also fails to deliver, I might get really cross.