White Ward is a Ukrainian group specializing in what they dub “DEVIANT BLACK METAL” on their Bandcamp page. Bassist/vocalist Andrey Pechatkin specified the band’s niche in a recent interview with Le Scribe Du Rock, calling it a “post-black metal act… that is heavily influenced by dark jazz and incorporates saxophone in the most unexpected moments.”
His classification better prepares listeners for the unique blend of sounds and influences found in the band’s 2022 effort, False Light. The record may be indubitably classified as black metal, though its intense passages associated with the genre often give way to instances of ECM-style jazz led by saxophonist Dima Dudko.
Despite the amalgamation’s apparent oddity on paper, it materializes quite well in practice. The sonic highs and lows of the more dynamic tracks on False Light serve to accentuate each other, while the shorter interludes invoke the post-rock tendencies of M. Gira’s Swans, adding to the overall foreboding nature of the record. This is evidenced in the chants echoing throughout “Salt Paradise,” in which Pechatkin speaks of rising from “the deepest caves.”
The aptly titled “Leviathan” is a 13-minute monster of a track that kicks the record off and provides a comprehensive rundown of the musical and conceptual ground covered throughout. It begins with a minute of ambience, giving way to a steady tempo of rhythmic chugging, before amping up the speed to a properly headbanging level befitting Pechatkin’s screeching vocals. Around the song’s halfway mark, the playing stops suddenly and allows the lingering distortion to usher in a few minutes of forlorn dark jazz before swelling into a punishing final leg.
Similar progressions are found littered throughout the more substantial tracks on False Light which all clock in at over ten minutes. One could criticize the record on this merit for being somewhat one-note, but the variability of performance and execution makes each song a distinct experience, if still a bit predictable at times.
“Cronus,” one of the album’s shorter cuts, delivers a contrasting sound more indebted to the shoegaze-influenced metal of Deftones (a noted influence of White Ward) and latter-day Deafheaven. However, it still provides moments of fury running in tandem with the rest of the record. “Silence Circles” also manages to circumvent the band’s up-down-up structure, by trading it in for a more linear development that steadily builds in intensity over its nine-minute runtime.
According to the groups members, False Light draws great influence from their home country of Ukraine and consequently carries with it the anguish of life under siege. While just recently gaining more mainstream attention, the Russo-Ukrainian conflict has been raging since 2014 and weighs heavy on the psyche of the Ukrainian people. White Ward composer-guitarist Yurii Kazarian spoke recently to New Noise Magazine about the Ukrainian state of affairs, noting “paradoxes such as people drinking coffee on the summer grounds of restaurants during the air raid[s],” which are quite accurately mirrored in the schisms of the band’s music.
First Light is a genuine statement of being. In a sense, it allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the Ukrainian anima than the oversaturated war coverage presented in the media, while not explicitly mentioning the situation whatsoever. While not entirely above criticism, the record is a worthwhile development of unique ideas that deserves the attention of listeners attuned to the avant-garde of metal.