I have been a little slow in checking out new releases. While I feel that damning modern heavy metal bands as inferior, generic and imitators is a sign of laziness, there is no doubt that it is easier to navigate metal's older eras. For example, according to metal-archives, 11907 releases came out in 2009, which is more than five times the amount released in 1989, 2480. Even if we assume right off the bat that only 5% of modern releases are at least 'good', the numbers indicate that there are at least 595 'good' records that came out in 2009. The problem of getting to them is wading through the 11400 releases that are 'bad', which can be an extremely tedious task. Actively scouring and doing deep genre digging within the 80s and 90s death metal scenes can also be tedious, but will immediately yield better results simply due to the lack of information overload. Out of the 2480 releases in 1989, there are obviously more than 5% (124) 'good' relases. Sticking with this era is essentially playing it safe, as there is little to no chance of encountering releases influenced by metalcore, mallcore, gothic rock, math rock, indie rock, emo, and whatever other undesireable elements may be present in today's bands. While being lazy can have its many perks due to avoiding these kind of bands altogether, it can be even more rewarding discovering a truly great recording from the present.
WAIL are the most promising band I've heard in a long time. I may have spoken too soon in the Barathrum review I wrote a few months ago, as it seems that the spirit of murky black/doom is quite alive within the grooves of this record. "Wisdom through Agony into Illumination and Lunacy" (in a sense a self-titled release, as the band's name is an acronym for this phrase) is the band's first, and currently only, full length. The band released demos in 2007 and 2009, the latter contains two tracks from this LP. Due to the track lengths, the former is presumably in the same style; lengthy, drawn out, slower paced metal that straddles the line between black and death. While this LP can be considered black/doom, it doesn't really sound much like Barathrum. Instead of using Barathrum's rhythmic and bass driven approach, the phrasing on this record is far more epic in scope. The melodic riffing bears a lot of similiarity to countrymen Hail; in fact, were the bands not from far apart cities, I would have figured that the two bands shared members.
Hail's "Inheritance of Evilness", while a definite modern classic, is a very sparse and loose album. WAIL's approach to the same blend of blackened doom is a little different. The production on this recording is very well done and professional sounding; the producer did an excellent job here in capturing the band's sound. Without trying to make the record sound flat and sterile (like so many modern production jobs), the record sounds very warm and organic. The guitars have a good mid-ranged sound to them and everything is mixed clearly. The performance is quite tight, and while the band lacks a raw, energetic sound, those particular aspects are not really needed for this type of slower music. Orchestration and arrangement is also fairly dense. The drums are quite busy, and frequently supplement the slower riffing with well placed fills. Taking a cue from some of the funeral doom acts, WAIL incorporate a number of subtle atmospheric touches in their music - clean vocal chants, piano, and strings. These accompaniments are not overdone (unlike many synth black metal bands that have the keyboards on full blast the entire time) and add a great deal to the music. At times, WAIL's approach in this regard reminds me of some of the more experimental parts of the dISEMBOWELMENT full length.
As previously mentioned, phrasing on the album is quite long and the songs quite are drawn out. Aside from the brief intro, the shortest track on this album is 9:43. Fortunately, the band has an excellent sense of composition; riffs flow into each other seamlessly, linked by excellent and engaging percussion, well placed and tasteful soloing, and strong, melodic leads. This type of slower black/death metal is often minimalistic due to the slower tempos, but WAIL manage to incorporate a more intricately structured arrangement in their songs without sounding wanky and without sacrificing the dark and murky atmosphere.
Records like this don't come along very often, and its a great surprise to blindly hear a new release of this high quality. "Wisdom through Agony into Illumination and Lunacy" quite easily makes my album of the year for 2009, and the band shows a great deal of promise for future releases. While they are clearly influenced by the likes of Hail, Samael, and Varathron, they have their own unique take on the sound, and at no point during this recording does it sound derivative or uninspired. Currently this album is only available on vinyl, and a CD issue is likely to happen in the future. The artwork is quite nice though, so I would personally recommend sticking with the LP; high shipping prices that may be incurred out of Europe are completely worth it. Don't pass this one up, this is a mandatory album for fans of cult black/doom.