Sunday Sesh: Splitting Up 2017 with Whitehorse and Upyr

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Holy hell, it isn’t even March yet and we’ve already got some killer splits. 2017 has witnessed new partnerships between Resonance Cascade/JärnbördPalace of Worms/Ecferus, and more I’m sure I’m forgetting. Today, however, I’d like to talk about one of my favorite doom/sludge bands around and the righteous split they’re about to drop. Get ready for Whitehorse and Upyr.

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ve likely seen me whisper (well, not literally seen me, but play along) about the Aussie doom monsters in Whitehorse before. As far as I’m concerned, the murk-dwelling sextet is one of the most genuinely unnerving metal acts around. By combining the creeping pace of funeral doom with absurdly heavy sludge riffs and preposterously inky vocals, Whitehorse creates a convincing atmosphere of eldritch horror better than just about anyone else in the business. Think of Portal playing Black Sabbath covers in Grave Upheaval‘s cavern, and you’re on the right track.

Imagine my elation, then, when I got an email that Whitehorse were releasing a new split! I made my way over to Bandcamp about as quickly as I could and pressed play on “Settled Dust,” a bleak, 18-minute subterranean crawl through ash and bone that is just quintessential Whitehorse. Then I hit play again. And again. It wasn’t just the unholy doom riffs compelling me to dive deeper and deeper into the hadal zone beneath Terra Nullius. No, Whitehorse were doing something a little different hear, something that took me a few listens to really tease out.

While the band has always dabbled in noise and drone elements to enhance the jittering, chittering atmosphere within which their doom metal lurks, there was a surprising hint of beauty here I had not detected before. Melancholic beauty, like a wilting flower in winter, aye, but beauty nonetheless. At about 10 minutes into the song, a delicate, vulnerable string arrangement rears its head from black refuse like a frightened creature struggling desperately to keep its head above the obsidian tides trying to pull it under. This arrangement adds an unexpected melody to the song and shows us a side of the doom sextet yet unseen, one that hides beneath its veneer of violence and despair a plaintive desperation. Honestly, this little element took me aback, but I’m almost ready to declare this the best song Whitehorse has ever written. It’s wonderful to see a band you enjoy evolving ever so slightly while still playing to their strengths. Thank you, Whitehorse.

It’s not entirely fair to say that the second half of the split, featuring Bulgaria’s doom quintet Upyr, is a bit of a comedown after the first half; after all, any doom band would be pressed to deliver a song that manages to balance fear and majesty so powerfully. For their part, though, Upyr perform admirably, deftly blending a much more traditional approach to doom with bold vocals and hard-rockin’ riffs. Whereas Whitehorse’s side is all gloomy mire, Upyr’s is almost upbeat and jaunty by comparison, and I suppose that’s a good thing. It’s a good juxtaposition that allows the quintet to stand on their own. Fans of big, loud riffs, headbanging drums, and mighty verses are sure to love Upyr’s two tracks here.

Ultimately, the Whitehorse/Upyr split is a great contribution to an already terrific year for both delivering us one of the most powerful funeral doom songs ever written and for daring to pair that track with two headbangers. It’s an interesting combination, but one I’m sure you’ll find rewarding.

So, Toilet pals, what splits are you rocking this year. Sound off in the comments below.

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