Wrekmeister Harmonies : We Love To Look At the Carnage

Wrekmeister Harmonies We Love To Look at the Carnage review

I was introduced to Wrekmeister Harmonies in the cozy confines of Mobius Records, my local record shop, in 2015. They had just released Night of Your Ascension, a record that seemed to be a breakthrough for the group—their powerful combination of chamber music, post-rock, drone and doom metal that they wielded, one that used the same components of post-metal but assembled to something more like orchestral and almost neoclassical, were spared that fallout. Their followup Light Falls built on all the successes of that previous record but pushed each element just a bit further; it still stands as their defining work in my view.

Which made their next record The Alone Rush somewhat disappointing. It made sense in the grand scheme that they would want to dial things back. It can be tempting to make every project bigger and more ambitious than the last, but this eventually leads you to a never-ending treadmill that can drive an artist to self-parody unless they are startlingly lucky. Hell, just look at Prince, an undeniable musical genius and a man we once crowned the greatest guitar player, and the slow march toward the aborted triple-LP Crystal Ball, which when it finally surfaced revealed exactly why it was abandoned for smaller and more concise projects. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the motive as much as the execution of the more pared-back sound for Wrekmeister felt somewhat anemic, like their hearts were still in the grandiose and swarming statements of earlier records and hadn’t quite fully transitioned to the new sonic space.

We Love To Look At The Carnage is an album much in the mold of The Alone Rush but, thankfully, a bit fuller. It is, I must admit, still a bit thin for my liking; its deep crescendos don’t rise quite as high as the mighty clattering of Night of Your Ascension or Light Falls, coming up to something more closely resembling a warm hum than a ferocious crash. But, notably, they exist again, something they were briefly denied. The pared-back proceedings here, notably sporting multi-instrumentalist Thor Harris of that later acclaimed period of Swans’ similar chamber rock work, feel closer to an acceptable middle path between the metallic steepness of those two peak albums in the middle of the band’s current discography and their current milder approach. The two longer tracks of the album-length composition build satisfactorily in intensity, feeling like a meditation that takes a suddenly serious turn if not necessarily producing the heavy metal thunder of previous works, and this drone-induced intensity helps to not only excuse but to justify the folksier elements of the briefer tracks.

Which leads to perhaps the most satisfactory evolution of the group: an embrace of song. Their previous records from Light Falls back were, of course, not utterly devoid of songfulness, those brief and clear statements of melody and sung lyrics that we would consider songs rather than mere movements in a longer work, but they definitely felt more subdued and integrated on those records. Their usage of melodies for so long was deeply contextual, something meant to dapple a larger work rather than call attention to itself, something that The Alone Rush sought to change with its more disjointed and individuated approach to movements rather than the smooth continuities of previous albums. We Love To Look At The Carnage represents again a refinement of that previous idea by having the opening, middle, and closing passages feel very much like they could stand on their own and be, at last, fully satisfactory songs, albeit something closer to Amen Dunes or Moon Duo than perhaps Neurosis or Godflesh.

But still, even with the refinement of both the more subdued crescendos and song-like passages, We Love To Look At The Carnage still feels like it slots itself a bit lower than those peak works of the band. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; there is plenty of room in the world for records that are merely good instead of great. But it’s hard not to be at least a little bit frustrated, especially considering the group has shown that they have so much capability to produce great music. It’s hard for me to tell, admittedly, whether this is purely a perspective issue, with my desire for a return to more metallic textures and some harsher vocals here and there coloring my view. But it is hard to deny that there is an increased placidity in the music that wasn’t there before, an advancement of the meditative elements perhaps a touch too far. If I were a scoring type, this would be a quintessential 3.5 out of 5 record, one that’s good and worth your time but doesn’t contain quite enough of those moments or timbres that you can hang your hat on to call unabashedly, unreservedly great.

Label: Thrill Jockey
Year: 2020

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