White Ward – Love Exchange Failure Review

Extreme music is an evocative artform that inspires a lot of great album covers. Every metalhead can rattle off a few classics that screamed DANGER in their eager youth, or recent releases that caught their eye during an algorithmic rabbit hole through dozens of thumbnails. White Ward’s 2017 debut full length Futility Report did exactly that for me with two black-robed figures wearing horned skull masks, standing in the woods. I saw genre tags of “black metal” and “jazz” and knew I was in for a good time. With a full time sax player and strong songwriting, the genres actually blended, stitched together with ambient electronic thread.

Love Exchange Failure’s nocturnal cityscape cover would not have caught my eye in the same way, but “White Ward” is now a stamp of quality that continues to impress. Our Ukrainian friends have shuffled the lineup, added a full-time keyboard player, and brought along some guest singers for the last three tracks.

Release date: September 20, 2019. Label: Debemur Morti Productions.
The debut’s traditional jazz elements occasionally brought to mind a smoky club, but Love Exchange Failure vividly transports you to a black and white detective film, with steam rising from the street and heartbreak in the air. The melancholy influence of Bohren & der Club of Gore drapes over the entire album. For the introductory three minutes of the title track, White Ward set the scene like opening credits to our movie. Then the drums roll and a primal scream counts off into a furious riff. These elements will reference each other, and over the next nearly 12 minutes, become a thesis statement for their self described ‘intensely deviant music of a noir shade.’ Sure, that sounds a bit pretentious, but White Ward’s earnest performance and genre-blending commitment make it work. This may be the best song they have written, but rest assured, the remainder of the album keeps pace.

White Ward and their guests scream, howl, and soulfully sing about the degradation of emotional connections in our modern world. “Dead Heart Confession” enters slowly, with a grim sampled news report floating in from the other room. The band paints another urban canvas with blackened pain and slow saxophone longing, eventually crying out “forsake me!” repeatedly as the vocals come to an end. New drummer Evgen “Noctum” Karamushko is fantastic throughout, but his ability to shift from raging blasts to jazz interludes and back are one of the highlights of “Dead Heart Confession.”

“Shelter” is a piano and crescendoing static driven interlude, and a stylistic midpoint. On the back half of Love Exchange Failure, White Ward occupy even more disparate voices, both literally and with their further disregard of black metal convention.

“Surfaces and Depths” is surprisingly playful and sensual at turns, like Porcupine Tree fronted by a slightly less demonic Diamanda Galás, but Renata Kazhan still reminds us that “we are all doomed.” The album’s production highlights each instrument beautifully and merges the genres with the same attention paid to the stellar songwriting. Closer “Uncanny Delusions” plods and swells dramatically, making the racing guitars and blast beats all the heavier when they appear. Newcomer Dima Dudko’s saxophone even gets some teeth, reminiscent of Bruce Lamont’s tone in Yakuza.

The final moments close our cinematic proceedings with an old vocal jazz sample. A woman yells tortured invective over the music, and a static echo finally swallows the scene whole.

White Ward harnesses ideas of pain and disconnection and turn them into haunting, plaintive jazz woven through several waves of modern black metal. There is an exciting commitment to all aspects of their sound, and we can only hope that they continue to experiment and add singers and musicians to their ranks (permanent or otherwise).

Love Exchange Failure’s cover may not activate your metalhead Spidey-sense, but the music it contains is nocturnal, urban, and very much worth your undivided attention. If you enjoy dark jazz, progressive black metal, and cinematic experiences with the lights off, treat yourself to one of 2019’s finest releases with Love Exchange Failure.

Posted by Old Guard

The retired elite of LastRites/MetalReview.

  1. This is the most refreshing Black Metal release I’ve heard in years. Ordered the LP after hearing just 2 songs. Great review and loving the fluidity of the genre bends they have going.


  2. I love black metal and I love jazz. Interestingly enough, I do not like White Ward at all. The metal part is typical post-black. Snore. The “jazz” is even worse. It might as well be smooth jazz. Double Snore.
    I will admit that the album cover is an excellent representation of the music there-in. It appeals to me about as much as those buildings do.
    Somebody needs to get Stagnant Waters to re-record the ST without the drum machine.


    1. Obviously we’ll agree to disagree on White Ward, but hot damn, thanks for recommending Stagnant Waters! I’d be interested in hearing this with a live drummer, but the machine works for me. I’m gonna have to spin this a few times to really absorb it all.

      In the right hands, I dig drum machines (like the super weirdos in Hardcore Anal Hydrogen – https://hardcoreanalhydrogen.bandcamp.com/album/hypercut), but Ephel Duath really perfected the loose improv feel of jazz + metal with The Painter’s Palette.


      1. Believe it or not, this very website is where I found Stagnant Waters. I sat there and read the Albums of the Week going back years. All kinds of great stuff in there.

        As for drum machines,I’m not much of a fan. In fact I’d usually run away as fast as I could. That said, I think Stagnant Waters would have lost a lot of the weirdness without it. I don’t know if dropping it would make the album better, but it sure as hell would be more conventional. I’m pretty sure there are some live drums in there under the machine too.

        I don’t think I can name a single band (besides SW) that mixes metal and jazz that I like. Actually, I don’t really know of any, other than Imperial Triumphant. And all I can hear there is some sort of hardcore/mathcore mess. I’ll have to check out Ephel Duath. The name brings to mind Popol Vuh (for those who don’t know, an old krautrock group).

        I can definitely see the appeal of White Ward. I just don’t like the building blocks. Then the clean, modern production puts the nail in the coffin. Still, I’m quite glad that it exists. Maybe it will inspire someone to take jazz and black metal in the opposite direction. Until then, I guess I’m stuck playing Ornette Coleman records on top of early Darkthrone.


  3. I want to like this, but the Lethal Weapon saxophone is just too much for me.


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