Guilt by metal association. For many, that’s the principal reason you’ll see a band like Worm Ouroboros crop up on metal sites whenever a new album drops. All three members are connected to the scene, but only drummer Aesop Dekker has his name attached to present-day bands that produce the hard stuff on the level. Vocalist/bassist Lorraine Rath likewise has a past experience with the metal-bracketed (and sorely under-appreciated) The Gault, a project that released one near-perfect record before calling it quits, and Worm Ouroboros clearly embodies the crux of that band’s doomy spirit and deathrock character. But there is a folkier feel to the dark ambience here, with a bulk of the time spent painting with a gauzy brush that works a delicate line between a drifting dreamstate and light consciousness. Elegance such as this will either make or break an unfamiliar listener within the first five minutes of “Day,” the slow-rolling opener to What Graceless Dawn. Those who don’t have a taste for the sort of drifting etherealness one might associate with a wildwood encounter with the ghost of the sylph queen will write this record off, and the door will most certainly hit them where the good Jörð split them. The rest, however, will find yet another fitting companion for the small hours, and a willing accomplice to solemn, solitary treks away from the madness of the day.
The beauty of simplicity is something Worm Ouroboros clearly understands. The formula centralizes balance – harmony between light and dark, warmth and coldness – and how to achieve that intention with elegance and minimal ornamentation. One guitar, one bass, drums, and the sirenic, harmonized voices of Rath and guitarist Jessica Way (Barren Earth) are the only arrows in What Graceless Dawn’s quiver, and these elements twist about in flight in a way that paints a picture that’s flush with orchestration. Listen to a song like “Broken Movements” as testament: crisp, gray and beautiful from the gate, like watching snow disappear as it hits an un-iced lake, and where the smallest of notes frequently manage to hit the hardest. Despite being leavened with a strong sense of bleakness, a clear impression of comfort and acceptance is also present, particularly once the song’s midpoint cracks the surface with a majestic measure of sweeping doom. The album’s longest cut, the 14-minute “Ribbon of Shadow,” treads with a similar foot, and features one of the year’s tastiest, most grief-stricken guitar licks around its 10-minute mark. Many a favored pick from the funeral doom realm would give a left marble for the minimalist power of emotion this record achieves.
When things are busier and hit with more weight, which happens at some point on every song but the fittingly quiet closer, “Night,” the album’s dynamic production continues to distribute equal priority to all players. The spry manner in which the bass bumps around the somber guitar tone stresses a certain buoyancy during more dramatic moments that prevents full misery submersion, as is the case throughout the latter half of “Suffering Tree.” And the band also recognizes the effectiveness of using percussion to deliver the heavy when things are otherwise peaceful, so an appropriate tip of the the hat is due toward Aesop Dekker (Vhol, ex-Agalloch, ex-Ludicra) for hitting like a fighter precisely when the mood calls for it. He has a knack for keeping things engaging when the temperament is subdued, but a song like “(Was It) the Cruelest Thing” does a great job of showcasing the impact that heavy-handed percussion can have when you need a little more power to offset all that tranquility.
Graceless Dawn by WORM OUROBOROS</a>
These songs are a curative for those fortunate enough to resonate on a similar wavelength. Steeped in sorrow, for sure, but also greatly affected by the warmth and narcotic drift at the heart of Lorraine and Jessica’s vocal accompaniment. My first week with the record resulted in the following initial evaluation: “This is the musical equivalent of being extraordinarily comfortable as your body decays on a lonely hillside and birds fret over your dead eyes. Happy times, really.” Two weeks later and I feel no different. More decayed, perhaps, but still just as happy. This is isolation, but without the loneliness, and it’s the best work Worm Ouroboros has produced to date – clear potential for pleasant headaches due to its release date and capacity to muck with an already solidified year-end list. There’s no real logic behind complaining about an abundance of musical goodness when the world around you seems damn-near collapse, though, so grab some good headphones, head into the woods, and revel in the leveling.