One could say that doom metal is a surging genre. With bands like Pallbearer, Khemmis, and Windhand leading the charge, the genre is growing in quality and ubiquity. Today we’re going to talk about a release that adds momentum to the aforementioned trend. Radiation is the sixth full-length release from Switzerland’s own Impure Wilhelmina, released July 7th by Season of Mist. The ten songs on the album add up to a runtime of just over 56 minutes. So does this hour deserve your attention? Let’s take a look.
Of all of heavy music’s sub-genres, doom has a few elements that are easily identifiable. Impure Wilhelmina have found a way to take what makes the genre so recognizable and mix it with their post-hardcore sensibilities. The track “Sacred Fire” is a perfect example of how well this works on the record, with a rock and roll chorus that gives way to a spacious, smoldering bridge that lets the song breathe.
One of the things that differentiate this album from the doom metal pack is the lyrical content. Doom tends to focus on large topics like existentialism and usually does so in an abstract and poetic way. The themes dealt with here are often more personal and scaled down. The band actually does not self-identify as a doom metal band, but as a post-hardcore act that straddles the line between rock and metal. This certainly holds true in the lyrical aspect of their writing. It also can be seen in some of the chord progressions and melodies that made their way into this album. For a case in point,, check out “Torn”:
The first 20 seconds of this song could be lifted from a Thrice record, with light drumming and a single guitar playing the song’s chord progressions, followed by the rest of the instrumentation crashing in. The chorus’ construction consists of quick minor-to-major shifts that lighten the tone of the song and will no doubt be a featured sing-along at live shows. The bridge sees a progressive shift where the guitars move from the band’s signature open-string rolling to a confrontational single-string tremolo. This serves the emotional arc of the song and it’s quite brilliantly executed here.
The next song of note is the longest on the album, “We Need a New Sun.” This track is the perhaps the most beautiful song that IW have ever recorded. Open-string acoustic guitars, harmonized vocals, and a real sense of melancholy pervade the opening three minutes. The back half of the song grows immensely with layered guitars, tremolo picking, and thunderous drumming. The two distinct halves of the song are unified simply by a four note sequence played only once in each of the two segments. It’s the little details like this that really make the song and the album unmissable.
The final song on the album that I’ll unpack is the penultimate and malevolent “Murderers.” This song ratchets up the intensity more than any other track on the album. The movements of the song are consistent and constant, giving the song a sense of drive and power even though it’s still a mid-tempo affair. The vocal work on this song deserves special mention as it’s the most diverse on the album – the range is immense. The song features the highest vocal registers, a spoken-word segment delivered alongside the sung chorus, and a moderate dose of growls. This combination of elements work really, really well.
During my many listens of this album, I never tired of it. Impure Wilhelmina were able to take the best elements of doom metal and post-hardcore and make something incredibly special. Listening to the entirety of the record is the audio equivalent of taking the scenic route, with each subsequent trip revealing a little more than the last. My only wish is that more chances with the vocals had been taken as they were on “Murderers.” This album has already been spoken in the same breath with Pallbearer’s opus, Heartless, and I feel that these comparisons are resoundingly valid. Simply put, do not miss the one.
Notable Tracks: “Sacred Fire”; “Torn”; “We Need a New Sun”; “Murderers”
FFO: Pallbearer, Swallow the Sun, Elder