Last year we were teased by Ukrainian band White Ward that a new album was planned for release this year, promised to be more complex and technical, taking the dark and urban jazz elements of Love Exchange Failure and adding new instruments and influences. It was hinted that there might be some interesting guests on the album, and given Lars Nedland (Solefald, Borknagar, White Void) provided guest vocals on their most recent release, 2021’s two track EP Debemur Morti, this was an intriguing tease indeed. White Ward had planned to announce and launch the pre-order for their new album this month. Instead, they made a somewhat inevitable announcement as to why they were unable to do so:
“Dear friends and fans,
Today, on March 7, we were going to announce and launch pre-orders of our new album. But our plans have been ruined by the most tragic event in the modern history of Ukraine.
Early in the morning of February 24 we woke up to explosions all around the country, which were Russian missile strikes. Russia meanly started a full-scale invasion of Ukraine after months of lying to the world that it was not planning any aggression against our nation. Now they call this war a ‘special operation’.
Our peaceful lives full of plans and dreams, as well as those of other 44 million Ukrainians, ended abruptly.
Today is the 11th day of the war, and apart from the direct battles Russia began terrorising our towns and cities by shelling civil infrastructure and living areas with missiles and bombs, killing hundreds of civilians.”
So, rather than look forward to the new album, I find myself reflecting on my journey towards loving this avant garde black metal band that refuses to be easily pigeonholed. I know I first heard of White Ward in April 2017, because I posted on Facebook about being intrigued by a description of the band as sounding like “a metallic version of Ulver’s Perdition City, and made a point of listening to Futility Report when it was released the following month. Another Facebook post of mine quotes record label Debemur Morti describing the album as “a deeply melancholic soundscape of night-time urbanity. All with a dream-like, subtle and immersive jazzy vibe.” As a friend commented on my post, the premise sounds nice. Clearly I didn’t think so at the time, as I replied quite emphatically that the premise might sound nice, but “the music doesn’t. Or, at least, the vocals don’t. This is not to my taste!”
That could have been that, until two years later in October 2019 when another friend on Facebook posted about Ulver. It reminded me of White Ward and that the band had recently released a new album. I guess since some time had passed, I figured I would try them again. My own Facebook post at this time suggests there was still a lot I didn’t particularly like about White Ward, but there was a lot more that I did like on Love Exchange Failure than on their debut. I wondered at the time whether that’s because the band had changed, or because my tastes had broadened, or a bit of both. Regardless, by 9th November 2019 I had purchased Love Exchange Failure. Even though this is closer to the middle than the end, the moral of the story is: never give up on a band. I’m glad I made an effort to listen to Love Exhange Failure, as I fell in love with it, and it (eventually) compelled me to re-listen to White Ward’s debut, too.
Let me get one thing out of the way though. If you can’t get past the harsh vocals of Andrii Pechatkin, you’ll probably not like White Ward. But they serve a purpose, and work wonderfully in combination with the saxophone of Dima Dudko. And there are some clean vocals so that the whole is not too overwhelming. Although, overwhelming would almost be appropriate, as White Ward are named after a psychiatric ward, because the band have always wanted to write music around themes of mental illness. Yurii Kazarian has said that the band have been called Deviant Black Metal. As he points out, this is not even a genre, but he acknowledges that the band do perform an unusual and abnormal black metal. Yurii is right, because I’m not a great fan of black metal, but White Ward’s take on the genre is more Metal Noir than Black Metal, including elements of post metal, jazz, trip-hop, ambient and noise. It’s the abnormal and unusual which I find so appealing, about their music.
One of the things I really loved about Love Exchange Failure is the way White Ward had fully embraced that abnormality – of being something more than simply black metal. While Futility Report may not have sounded that different from Love Exchange Failure, it still looked much as you might expect a black metal album to look like. The cover art for Love Exchange Failure is completely different, and the imagery fits the musical and lyrical content so much better. Love Exchange Failure is, I imagine, the most overt album about mental illness in modern cities ever written by a “black metal” band. Now, although noir and black have the same meaning, in terms of colour, in terms of nuance and atmosphere they are completely different, which is why I suggested White Ward are more metal noir than black metal. This album could (though perhaps without prominence of harsh vocals) soundtrack a piece of film, and the real horrors of the urban environment are actually more terrifying than the imaginary monsters and demons of regular black metal.
Diversity in sounds, tones and instrumentation, and sometimes quite sudden and jarring shifts, have often been used to mirror a mind wracked by mental illness. But somehow White Ward make these movements and shifts work even better with the urban(e) imagery, evoking the emotional struggle so many people live with – feeling alone with their monsters, while surrounded by so many others, many of whom are battling monsters of their own. This isn’t an easy album to listen to, especially if you don’t like harsh vocals, but, for me at least, it is very worthwhile. I find myself liking it more every time I listen to it – even now, over two years later. When the new album eventually sees the light of day, I know I will love it, too.
I’ll leave the last words to Andrii Pechatkin, with his thoughts on how he feels about White Ward’s music:
“It provides a psychotherapeutic effect: you always have a goal and a way to feel relief. These things help you run away from daily duties and yourself getting the necessary rest.” As for Andrii, in making the music, so for me, in listening to it.
01. Love Exchange Failure (11:55)
02. Poisonous Flowers of Violence (8:13)
03. Dead Heart Confession (10:05)
04. Shelter (5:41)
05. No Cure For Pain (12:26)
06. Surfaces and Depths (6:15)
07. Uncanny Delusions (12:29)
Total Time – 71:04
Yurii Kazarian – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Andrii Pechatkin – Bass, Vocals
Serhii Darienko – Guitars
Evgen Karamushko – Drums
Dima Dudko – Saxophone
Stanislav Bobritskiy – Keyboards
Vitaliy Gavrilenko – Clean Vocals (track 5)
Renata Kazhan – Clean Vocals (track 6)
Ivan Kozakevych – Clean Vocals (track 7)
Record Label: Debemur Morti
Country of Origin: Ukraine
Date of Release: 20th September 2019