I have often remained weary of metal bands who replace guitars with some other instrument. Whilst, for instance, the hammered dulcimer-driven stylings of Botanist have yielded fantastic results, I’ve more often than not found myself underwhelmed with a concept that looks fascinating on paper, but lacks in execution. The most recent example of this would have to be the self-titled debut album from Brain Tentacles, which read to me as a relatively archetypal instrumental metal record outside of its use of horns instead of guitars. Therefore, hearing of Wreche, a black metal duo consisting solely of drums, vocals and piano, my interest may have been piqued, but so was my scepticism. It is always enthralling to hear how various groups, who pursue such audacious approaches to metal music, will attempt to actualise such an undertaking, even if the results are ultimately disappointing. Personally, with bands such as Botanist, Brain Tentacles and now Wreche, I look for a transformative approach to songwriting that extends beyond simply the superficial quirk of substituting metal’s signature, distorted guitars for a different timbre. By this salient criterion, the self-titled debut record from this Los Angeles-based duo stacks up very well. The dexterity of pianist and vocalist John Steven Morgan translates into a compositional style that sees the piano take on an identity of its own, rather than mimic the techniques of black metal guitar. Primarily pulling from classical music that most closely evokes the piano virtuosos of the mid-to-late Romantic period and perhaps certain impressionist composers, Morgan’s piano work is incredibly impressive in its own right. Beyond this, however, the extent to which Wreche effectively incorporate such eccentric playing into a black metal aesthetic is even more remarkable, with Barret Baumgart’s contributions from behind the kit being accommodating and disciplined, whilst nevertheless displaying the technical prowess of his own. Similarly, as a collective whole, Morgan and Baumgart’s chemistry supports this selection of thrilling compositions with some equally expert, emotive and electrifying performances, all of which are translated with utmost urgency through the raw, true blue black metal metal production boasted across the album. The fact that Wreche have cogently brought to fruition such a strikingly courageous compositional approach to black metal by just their debut is truly admirable, and Wreche stands as a testament to the gripping results that daring musical experimentation can yield.
Following a brief introductory track, the first full-length track on the record, Angel City, communicates Wreche’s modus operandi loud and clear. The piece’s opening of discordant accents gives way to the flurry of swirling, clashing piano keys and textbook blast beats, primarily playing a supportive role for Morgan’s distant howls, as if the band is attempting to initially establish that Wreche is, indeed, a black metal record. Angel City may lack the genre’s signature, heavily-distorted, tremolo-picked guitars, but Morgan’s triplet-based piano playing mimics the common use of triplet-picking by black metal guitars. It most definitely seems as if the opening section of the first full-length composition on the album exists to translate the duo’s knowledge of, and appreciation for, the tropes of black metal, as if to settle the groundwork on which they will continuously build throughout the remainder of the tracklisting. The mechanical and almost metallic sound of the piano lends itself well to the aura of dark disharmony that looms over the entirety of Wreche, whilst Morgan’s vocals retain the ice-cold causticity that paints the picture of the wintry, sylvan landscape depicted on so many a black metal album cover. Just over a minute into Angel City, however, marks the point at which Wreche begin to tease their classical influences to the listener, and attest to their willingness and ability to push past the black metal archetype and delve into waters that are not defined solely by the peculiarity of substituting guitars for a solo piano. A crushing drum fill gives way to a burst of booming bass notes that are played with the damper pedal to the floor the entire time, creating a crescendoing wall of rumbling dissonance. Once Baumgart’s triplet hammer blasts enter, the right hand of the piano penetrates with a whirlwind of tumbling keys that descend into a convulsion of atonal accents, before the duo seamlessly work their way into the succeeding passage, wherein Morgan’s piano work reaches its most emotionally stirring throughout the whole piece. It perhaps wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this descent is evocative of the work of piano virtuosos who surely inspired Morgan in his playing style. Particularly, the polyphonic texture of Angel City, as well as the chaotic closing track Vessel, with the rapid arpeggios in the treble clef being supported by the heavy left hand, could potentially take cues from the stamina-focussed studies by Frédéric Chopin, with Étude Op. 25, No. 11 — whose informal name of Winter Wind is amusingly fitting for a black metal aesthetic — coming to mind as testing the pianist’s endurance and technique in a similar fashion. Indeed, the inspiration that Morgan clearly pulls from classical music runs much deeper than merely surface level, and a great deal of the success of his compositions is the care taken to marry the most applicable elements of black metal and solo piano classical music in order to effectively unite two genres that are antithetical in many regards.
Considering each and every one of the many twists and turns that Angel City takes, it becomes even more stunning to study the cohesiveness of Morgan and Baumgart, with the listener barely even being able to keep with the song’s progress themselves. This is even more true of the 13-minute centrepiece of the album, Fata Morgana, wherein Wreche embellish the piece accordingly, as to enshrine it as the apex of their artistry. The sonic depth of the diminished chords that open Fata Morgana meets with Baumgart’s oppressive drum work to create a hulking, punctuated groove that subtly and gradually grows into a more expansive sound with the introduction of Morgan’s fluttering playing at the top of the piano. Analysing the numerous intricacies, for which it would be impossible to go into enough detail to cover all of them, reveals just how in-sync the two musicians are, and the attention to detail both Morgan and Baumgart inject into these pieces, with the drummer supporting even the smallest of piano licks with complementary fills. Indeed, a great deal of credit should be given to Baumgart for his versatile drumming, which adds another layer of interest for the listener, especially considering that the drummer will radically switch up his playing at points wherein Morgan is repeating motifs, such as during the second half of Fata Morgana, in order to keep the piece consistently engaging. The chemistry between the duo is certainly palpable, and it translates into some especially enthralling performances, with the style of each musician accompanying the other’s perfectly.
In short, Wreche’s debut album is the reason I started this website. Of course, it wasn’t this record specifically, but the thrill of unearthing a fantastically innovative project that is just starting out has always filled me with a burning desire to sing the praises of my new-found discovery. When it comes to Wreche, the duo has established an incredibly inventive idea and followed through with an equally engrossing execution, and this leaves me nothing short of ecstatic to hear where they will take their sound next. Indeed, as impeccable as Wreche is, it is nevertheless a short release, clocking in at just over half an hour, with several minutes being dedicated to the introductory track, the sampling at the end of Fata Morgana and the relaxed interlude of Petals, so the next logical step for Wreche would most likely be to commit themselves to a larger and more diverse undertaking. As an introduction to their stylings, however, Wreche is a phenomenal debut that delves into uncharted territory more so than perhaps any other record I’ve heard this year, whilst yielding absolutely flooring results in the process.
The Vinyl Verdict: 8.5/10