|Artwork by Corviid Art.|
Palace of Worms has been putting out solid, off-center USBM for a while now. I first became aware of them when they did a split with Botanist, and I enjoyed those tracks. But their newest, The Ladder, is on a whole new level. It blends complexity and accessibility into a compelling emotional journey and a damn fine listen.
When I was writing notes during one of my listens, I kept jotting down the contrasts of dark versus light on this album. It turns out I had good reason to do so, because Palace of Worms' sole member, Balan, had this very much in mind:
"There is still a lot of darkness in the record, but also an amount of light which I feel provides necessary contrast, emotionally speaking. I tried to make an album which was not one note on an emotional level because that’s not how I, or anyone else, operates, despite how much of a ‘grim kvlt warrior’ they claim to be. (via Invisible Oranges)"This duality is evident from the very beginning. Album opener "In the Twilight Divide" starts out with a frenzied folk intro (not surprising for Balan, who's been part of Botanist's touring band) before dropping straight into a grumbling, stomping riff and hoarse (but understandable) vocals. It's pure "grim kvlt warrior," to use Balan's own words, but before long, the song goes atmospheric with vocals one of the album's guest contributors, Bezaelith from Lotus Thief. As with Lotus Thief, Bezaelith's vocals are lilting, harmonized moments of beauty--I can't imagine ever not being moved by them. When the furor starts back up, Balan growls about "getting myself to feel again," just as the song itself does for the listener.
There are similar turns in a lot of these songs. Album standout "Nightworld" starts with a marching riff and Balan screaming that he's "forever trapped in Nightworld," and Nightworld isn't made out to be the happiest place to be. But after another fantastic vocal contribution from Bezaelith, the riffs turn more melodic, and more hopeful. Suddenly Balan is addressing someone else with a very different tone from the intro to the track: "You've finally come, deliver me from this hell, deliver me from my Nightworld."
If this so far sounds like the songs are formulaic over the course of the album, fear not. The song structures vary as the music demands, and it helps that Balan has a lot of other cool friends besides Bezaelith. Ephemeral Domignostika (the man behind Mastery) offers some tasty-yet-insane guitar solos, and Mattia Alagna, from Abstracter and Atrament, adds guest vocals to the gothy "Wreathe." "Wreathe" might be the most out-of-place track on the album, but paradoxically, it still manages to fit in. And to keep the paradox going, album closer "Ephemeral Blues" is less bluesy heartache and more sunny, sweeping post-black goodness.
My general sense is that Palace of Worms has been flying under the radar for a while, but if the other press coverage I've seen so far is any indication, people are waking up to what Balan is doing. It's perfect timing, because regardless of whether you want to genre-nit-pick how black metal this album really is, the end result is a revelation for black metal and beyond. Hell, I'm probably going to buy the vinyl for this just to add my support and appreciation, and I don't even own a record player.