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.
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.