Melodic black metal is a particular weakness of mine; don’t get me wrong, I love the raw, lo-fi stuff, its where I got my start, but having been raised on classic metal like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Dio, I have a soft spot for some good melody. As with every sub-genre of metal, though, there are always the pissing matches that come with the territory when discussing melodic black metal. One side is all about melody and the bombast that the melodic bands tend to bring to the table; on the other end, the guys that like all the raw, hateful sounding stuff think the melodic bands are a bunch of poseurs, and only pussies listen to it. I personally think there’s room for everybody, as I like Tsjuder just as much as I like Naglfar.
Withania are a two-piece melodic black metal band from Germany, who have just released their debut full-length, Blütenstaub und Weidenharz. The music mixes a little bit of folk metal with some pretty straight-forward melodic black metal; think early Dimmu Borgir, minus the keyboards. Vocals move between clean singing and the high pitched growls that one would expect from a typical black metal release, and the music makes a lot of changes in direction, from solitary acoustic bits to full on distorted, heavy black metal. The use of cleaner guitar effects is a breath of fresh air, as black metal can sometimes get a bit monotonous if it’s all blast beats and speed picked guitars; the music can come off as a bit spooky sounding, like on the excellent track “Wenn die Würfel fallen,” which has some lead guitars layered in that sound like horror movie theme music. The switches made between styles is handled impeccably, and shows that Setril, who handles the bulk of the instrumentation, is a master craftsman in terms of musicianship and songwriting. The melodies and rhythms almost sound like traditional folk tunes, particularly on tracks like “Der Tod und der Wind,” which has a German “oompah” vibe to it in some sections. I enjoyed the incorporation of other sounds not always heard in black metal, but not all of it works on Blütenstaub und Weidenharz; one example is the appearance of slide guitar on “Entfremdung.” It sounds a bit mismatched, especially since it’s trying to play an “evil” sounding melody; on “Der Wein der Verzweifelten,” however, the slide guitar works perfectly since that song is a bit more melodic and folk-oriented.
The production is insanely good when you consider this is an independent release; the mixing and transitions between soft sections to heavy sections sound extremely professional. The guitars can be a bit thin sometimes, and there’s little to no bass in the mix, but the riffs are pretty heavy, and I love the alternating clean and harsh vocals. Withania are off to a pretty impressive start, and I love their willingness to experiment this early on in the career. I definitely look forward to seeing what else these guys come up with.