REVIEW: Wanheda – Desert of Real

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WANHEDA is an intriguing name for a band. It is a word that stems from the American post-apocalyptic science fiction TV series, The 100, based on the book series of the same name by Kass Morgan. The word stands for some sort of “commander of death” in the mythology of the fiction. It would certainly be an apt name for a metal band with heavy pagan influences. However, the band from Leuven, Belgium, couldn’t possibly be any further from the fantasy-infested Viking metal hordes. WANHEDA is post-rock to the bone and in true post-rock fashion, these Belgian instrumentalists seem to prefer to be enshrouded in a veil of mystery; The promotional press kit does not reveal much info about the outfit: not even a short bio, no sneak-peeks into the process of making the album, none whatsoever. (The line-up below is actually the band personnel on their 2018 debut, “The Cenozoic Implosion,” as referred to in Discogs.) Instead, the press release was comprised of a four-page philosophical essay on the themes of the songs on the outing. Oh, yes – this is post-rock par excellence! Rather conveniently, with regard to keeping this text online-friendly, the song titles aren’t such mini-essays as on the album “Every Red Heart Shines Toward the Red Sun” by RED SPARROWS. In effect, I cannot blame the band for being overly verbose about themselves. However, I’m not entirely sure when the album is going to be released – soon, I reckon [ed. The album comes out independently on February 2nd, 2021]. The single, “Akathisia,” is set to be released on November 23rd, 2021, according to the band’s Instagram profile. The band’s profile in Bandcamp wasn’t very helpful either. Okay, I get that this is not music with which to sell cars, ghetto hoodies, or hair conditioners but in order to get the word-of-mouth doing the rounds in the notoriously withdrawn and introverted post-rock circles, a little bit of effort on online promotion wouldn’t harm, right? Of course, I’ll be more than willing to put in the good word for the band here. This mystical approach plays out to the conventions of the genre, we get it, and as long as the music delivers quite nicely to our expectations regarding the musical side of things, we don’t really mind, do we?

According to the band’s press release, the album is about addiction: the emotional struggles associated with our addiction to social media, smartphones, and technology, in particular. Yes, the meticulously crafted long crescendos stir up emotions ranging from euphoria and bliss to despair and melancholy – the whole life-cycle of a stereotypical addiction. Interestingly enough, the latest psychological research on the topic suggests that everything we know about addiction is wrong: the opposite of addiction is not sobriety but connection. Thus, addiction is not about the temporary high provided by chemical substances or endlessly posting selfies on social media – it’s about the inability to connect with other humans in any sort of healthy ways. From this standpoint, WANHEDA‘s new outing certainly grasps the sentiment via exclusively musical means: the music sounds as though floating through the air, disconnected from everything and longing for a connection. On occasion, the wistful undercurrent is buried under a quasi-triumphant crescendo, only to resurface in the next yearning coda. 

When it comes to a post-rock album, it’s pretty pointless to dissect each song individually. You don’t listen to a post-rock album by setting your Spotify or iTunes to shuffle songs at random. Every post-rock full-length tells a story that is best served when you listen through the album in one go – just take MONO‘s “Hymn to the Immortal Wind,” for example. If you put it on, you simply have to listen through it all because it kind of gets a grip on your soul and won’t let go. WANHEDA knows this and the sonic narrative on “Desert of Real” is brushed with lengthy, slow-burning strokes. Of course, not every song is crafted with the same old, idiosyncratic post-rock template… that is, from a whisper to a scream over the course of 10 minutes. The shortest track on the album, “Phronesis,” clocks at only 1:50. Sometimes, the instant gratification provided by the dopamine feedback loop of, say, Facebook or Instagram, is gone really fast, isn’t it? As a whole, the album works just as you would expect from a sublime post-rock offering: even though the motifs take some time to evolve into their full glorious splendor, the music does not become boring at any point – it is on the move at all times. The music may move slowly, but it moves, nonetheless, and the mental space wherein the music moves is pretty damn close to some sort of a meditative state of mind.

In terms of post-rock, WANHEDA is close to the somewhat ”classic” post-rock sound of bands such as MONO, GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR, RED SPARROWS, and MOGWAI. The violin motifs also resonate with the same melancholic fingerprint as do the violin arrangements on the 2013 album, “This Very Holding Back,” by the Finnish post-rock outfit, LOCOMOTORAWANHEDA likes to keep things somewhat “retro” rather than embark on the experimentalism of post-rock bands such as TORTOISE. Occasionally, the clean guitar twangs almost resonate with the spacious air of vintage PINK FLOYD and some of the distorted guitar riffs take cautious baby steps in the realms of stoner rock. The violin motifs and piano arpeggios, in turn, weave sonic tapestries strongly reminiscent of modern, minimalist score music and the neo-classical strains of electronica. One of the best aspects of post-rock is that it takes you on an emotional journey similar to movies – with the added bonus that you can come up with a mental screenplay of your own if you please. That is to say: even though the songs on “Desert of Real” are composed with an overarching theme, you can also close your eyes, put the record on, and let the music take you wherever you wish to go. This selection of eleven new WANHEDA songs is such a brilliantly crafted body of music that it is surely evocative enough to take you somewhere, to create a connection with something deep within you. Ironically enough, this kind of music can be highly addictive.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. To Kallisti, The Most Beautiful
  2. Akathisia
  3. Lucid Antidote
  4. Dunamis
  5. A Desert of Real
  6. Noumenon
  7. Phronesis
  8. Nothing Ever Goes Away
  9. Arid Antidote
  10. Dogma
  11. Kallos

Lineup

Jan Boucké – guitar

Jan Verduyckt – guitar

Nick Van Vynckt – bass

Maurits Elzinga – drums

Jasper Simon – keyboards

Jan Peeters – production, guitars

Label

Independent

Links

Bandcamp

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