Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wreck and Reference - Black Cassette

And so here I was thinking that I wouldn't ever find any new takes on doom metal worth hearing, until Wreck and Reference sent me a copy of their EP, Black Cassette. From the outset, this band's music retains elements of traditional doom, but it warps and distorts them into something totally unique. Coming out of California, the band describes themselves as a 'lo-fi electronic doom band', one that plays doom with no guitars. While this could be off-putting for some, all it does is simply set Wreck and Reference apart, putting them in a category that is completely their own.

Other than the drums and vocals, all the music on Black Cassette is electronically created using synthesizers and various samples. The end result is a composition that is structurally a 'doom' record, but one which loosens the genre's boundaries and leads expeditions into experimental territory. The claustrophobic nature of doom is here, but it is further accentuated by a noise-esque fuzz over the composition. Moments where the music bursts to life are shadowed by a deep rumble that is unnerving in the best possible way. Do not be mistaken, however, in thinking that this is as ‘lo-fi’ as the band claim – while there is a DIY feel to this record, it is immaculately produced and simply sounds great.

The pace of the EP is pretty much perfect. There are no lengthy songs here, and though the whole thing goes for a little over 23 minutes, I don't even notice the time when I listen to it. Compositionally, Wreck and Reference have nailed it. Each song is as engaging as the last, and while they keep to a similar core approach in each one, there are differences that set them apart and keep them fresh. Strange melodies, such as the one at the end of 'Evening Redness' or on 'Surrendering' are captivating and emotionally charged, a current that runs throughout the entire EP.

If I had to pick one thing about Wreck and Reference which makes me refer it (loosely) to traditional doom, other than the lethargic tempos, it would be the vocal work. While it's not a reference due to similarity, I'll simply drop the name Warning to get people interested. The vocals on Black Cassette are very unique and ordinary at the same time, something that Pat Walker is arguably known for. On Black Cassette, one thing that characterises all the vocal work is the acerbic tone in which it’s delivered, one which ranges from almost Placebo-like emission to Walker inspired wails (the vocal performance on 'In Chains, Awakening' a perfect example). If anything, they make Black Cassette all the more inviting.

What I love most about this record is the fuzz. And sometimes the lack of. The 'riffs' are made of walls of distortion, which swell and dip frequently, and the occasional moment where the absence of the fuzz is emphasised juxtaposes wonderfully with the rest of the composition. The quiet first half of 'Surrendering' as opposed to its abrasive and almost despondent climax is one such example, a formula that the band repeats in a variety of ways throughout Black Cassette.

At first I put little effort into this EP, but all it took was one concentrated listen for me to realise how good it is. Wreck and Reference is a young band, forming only a couple of years ago, and I'm while I'm unsure of any earlier releases, Black Cassette is reason enough to become a fan. They're a mesh of Warning and The Die is Cast-era Menace Ruine, with a lot of unique twists and touches - something which, in my opinion, simply has to be heard. This comes with the highest recommendation I can possibly give.

The EP can be streamed at Wreck and Reference's bandcamp page, from which you can download it for free. There is also the option to buy the physical copy, so if you do like it, please support them so they can keep putting out such great music.

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