Black metal. Just bringing it up conjures thoughts to those familiar with the genre. We all have an expectation of what the genre entails as far as sound and aesthetic, our preferences for what bands do it best, and more. In recent years, daring musicians have tooled around with the sound, incorporating elements from other genres, providing listeners with different hooks and trying to stand out among the herd of emerging artists. But have you ever considered how well jazz-oriented saxophone would mix in with that fast, dissonant black metal sound? This is the primary point-of-interest for experimental ‘deviant black metal’ outfit White Ward, our latest Weekly Featured Artist hailing from Odessa, Ukraine. The band’s bassist Andrii Pechatkin and guitarist Yurii Kazaryan were kind enough to speak to me about their history, sound and influences.
The story of White Ward is one of growth and gaining a foothold within the musical landscape they now find themselves in. A friend of his named Dmitry proposed that they start a raw, depressive black metal project. Dmitry ended up moving to Russia months later, therefore leaving the band. Nothing substantial came to be initially, but Kazaryan pushed on. He met new people to fill out the roster and an EP titled Illusions was produced. It was indeed raw — gritty and flawed production lent itself well to the black metal standard. The music produced during this time can be heard on their project Origins, which is a compilation of their early work dating from 2012 to 2015.
The name White Ward has specific meaning: ‘It’s a hospital room in an insane asylum‘, Pechatkin explains, ‘A place with white walls and bright lights that cause the feeling of discomfort when you even think about it. At the same time, it is associated with tension, redout and the attempt to struggle [with] mental illnesses‘. It’s also a reference to duality with ‘white ward‘ being a combination of two things that should not normally be together. This duality also extends to the musical composition of the band: ‘You can hear all these black metal riffs and blast beats with lots of other elements (saxophone, amen break, piano, etc) used in genres that are not related to black metal (dark jazz and various electronic genres)‘.
This is, as mentioned before, the so-called hook of White Ward. On their most recent album, Futility Report, you can hear this duality. One moment, a wall of black metal dissonance engulfs the listener, only to melt away to reveal the ambient skeleton of the band’s core sound with cleanly performed saxophone to offer reprieve from the chaos. As far as incorporating the latter, Pechatkin recounts:
‘We always had an idea to incorporate such saxophone into White Ward because of dark jazz. All band members were fond of this interesting genre which is not jazz in its classical meaning, but at the same time it’s neither post-rock nor ambient. All these slow tempos often remind us [of] funeral doom and the absolutely minimalist basslines move you to a trance like some industrial stuff. Of course, when a saxophone appears in this mess of slow sounds, you pay attention to all features of its sound and appreciate every note played during the track’.
This is the beauty of the band. Where black metal is known as a busy and noisy genre, White Ward built their whole sound around enjoying every conceivable element in the music as it is heard. Nothing is lost on an attentive listener. The sax itself adds a lush and smooth texture to the sound that typically never enters the mind of black metal musicians aside from those with symphonic elements. It wasn’t enough to just have the instrument play during calmer sections of their songs though. Saxophonist Alexey Iskimzhi, who appears on Futility Report, proposed layering some sax over the heavier sections, too. Bands like Ex Eye incorporate a melding of these elements as well, but they do so in a way that complements their avant-garde style and as such, the sax is just as turbulent as the other elements of that band. Here, though, the saxophone retains its silky tones throughout which adds a special magic to songs. Pechatkin credits Iskimzhi’s initiative in making that suggestion as it helped flesh out the sound that we hear on Futility Report.
With regards to how their album came together, Pechatkin offers a candid look into what was at one time a typical work day for him and Kazaryan. Pechatkin woke up at 7:00 AM and started his day normally enough with breakfast before taking his laptop and heading to the other side of Odessa where Kazaryan resides. He usually had to wake up Kazaryan who then began a similar morning routine. After breakfast, Kazaryan laid down guitar tracks and Pechatkin managed the recording process itself in addition to working a remote job from his laptop. This is roughly how production looked for at least a full week: ‘It was the most extensive week in the creation of the album and the most painful one‘. And this was just one week within a three-year period over which Futility Report was developed. ‘We spent three years making the album, not because we were in a studio all this time, but due to procrastination,‘ Pechatkin admits.
Creative inspiration for White Ward is a very common one among most artists: nature and physical surroundings. Something we often take for granted as just being there in our daily lives is also so powerful, it can spur creative thoughts and mentally take you to places when tapped into correctly. Pechatkin explains:
‘I was born in a small city [in Southern] Ukraine. Kherson is full of trees and abandoned factories. The biggest artificial forest in Europe (or the whole planet) grows here. I spent days there with my parents since the early childhood, and then often moved there with friends. Besides, Kherson is situated along the Dnipro river – a huge water arterium with a complicated ecosystem. The biggest European desert is also here. All these things still inspire me. Moreover, they taught me to love and appreciate nature, so it is the biggest source of inspiration for me’.
Kazaryan, born in Odessa, Ukraine, has a similar inspiration: ‘It is big city port by the Black Sea, and I think that life here influenced me and our music [by] adding notes of urbanism. But it is only one among many moments. I think music can convey the character and ideology of a person who creates the music in many ways, but the character and ideology are formed by so many things’.
It’s easy to see the beauty of a region like Eastern Europe represented in White Ward‘s music, from the nighttime noir feel of “Rain as Cure” to the industrial-tinged intro of “Deviant Shapes”. Pechatkin is also inspired by people, though: ‘Good people motivate me to do my work, to learn something new, to create something unique. Bad people and their deeds make me sad, and this state is the best for creating something’. Specifically, he points to his parents and friends who have been quite supportive of him and his musical endeavors.
So, after writing an album that’s been critically acclaimed all over the far reaches of the internet, what’s next for White Ward? I’m pleased to share that they are writing new material for a second album, for which they have drastically altered the line-up of the band (it’s worth noting here that the featured image for this article shows both Pechatkin and Kazaryan with Futility Report session musicians including singer Andrew Rodin, guitarist Igor Palamarchuk, and drummer Yurii Kononov). ‘We’ve almost entirely changed the line-up of the band’, Pachatkin says. ‘New members suit the band much better. Besides, we are going to work with several session musicians to record the second full-length – there are instruments that none of us know what to do with…‘ There’s no date set yet, but after their next album is completed and released, they plan to tour Europe. Until then, they do have a couple upcoming live shows that you can look forward to if you’re in the area. On April 14 in Kyiv, Ukraine, the band will be supporting legendary Greek metal band Rotting Christ, and a festival date in Lithuania is coming together for later in June as well. They someday hope to tour in Asia and the Americas if they are called to do so. Your move, showrunners!
White Ward is truly a unique, spirited take on a genre that often gets caught up in its own tropes and trappings. I hope it’s just as apparent to you as it was for me how special, forward-thinking and buzzworthy their music is. If you’re still on the fence, just listen to Futility Report in full and see what you think then. I want to give a special thanks to Andrii Pechatkin and Yurii Kazaryan for graciously giving their time and working with me in the development of this article.
White Ward is…
Andrii Pechatkin – bass
Yurii Kazaryan – guitar