For a band often lumped in with metal—somehow simultaneously erroneously and accurately—True Widow use heaviness sparingly. There’s a definite weight to their music, which comes as a result of a dense layer of distortion and a frequently funereal pace that makes each note or riff land with a greater impact. They’re not crushing, though they do rock in their own restrained sort of way, but for a band that employs a less-is-more sort of minimalism in their approach, True Widow is a uniquely heavy band. So it probably shouldn’t be terribly surprising that “Back Shredder,” the first track on the band’s fourth album (and second for Relapse) Avvolgere, actually rocks pretty hard. It’s a ripper, damn near a barnburner, Dan “D.H.” Phillips’ riffs bending this much closer to actual shred, its pace dialed up a little past Sleep or Codeine, reaching just a little bit closer toward Soundgarden.
Avvolgere has an immediate feeling of urgency about it, if only by gradual measures. True Widow are never going to transform into High on Fire overnight or even within a decade, but when a band with such a clearly defined aesthetic and BPM range introduces some new ideas, a little bit of change goes a remarkably long way. “Back Shredder” is one of those moments—a statement that seems dramatic in context, yet very much in the character of True Widow’s aesthetic. It’s just a little bit more fun and frivolous, the track you might queue up if you were to play their music at a biker rally. Only it’s not alone here; just one track later, “Theurgist” maintains the urgency set out by the leadoff track, only this time trading string-bend squeals for a more characteristic post-punk chug. It’s what True Widow does best, and sounds great in a way that only they can really pull off.
True Widow’s never been a group that relied upon elaborate arrangements—strings, horns, synthesizers—to make a statement, and that hasn’t changed much here. So while the band’s newfound get-up-and-go strikes an immediate chord, that chord still comes from Phillips’ own guitar, backed by the rock-solid rhythm section of bassist Nicole Estill and drummer Timothy Starks. Yet one of the band’s greatest strengths has always been in their showcase of contrasts, particularly between Phillips and Estill’s vocals. When Estill interjects on “The Trapper and the Trapped,” her ethereal vocals serve to highlight the inherent spaciousness of the band’s music rather than the darkness or the (quiet) intensity. Likewise, her lead vocal on the spooky acoustic track “To All That He Elong” proves to be one of the most radical surprises here, achieving a sense of foreboding with an even starker set of tools than usual.
On 2013’s Circumambulation, True Widow proved that their slow-moving, carefully crafted hybrid of slowcore and doom could actually produce songs that sounded like singles. If anything, Avvolgere is a doubling down on that concept, a further sharpening of the band’s hooks with one less hitch in their giddy-up. And when the hammer’s down, True Widow show off their stuff impressively, building up one hell of a dust cloud in tracks like the urgent, catchy “Sante.” It’s not party music, but Avvolgere has a certain primal tension to it that adds another layer to the band’s gradually evolving, yet still mysterious oeuvre. True Widow are becoming a bit more playful with their eerie anthems, and it translates well on record. For a dark set of heavy slowcore tracks, this album is surprisingly fun.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.