France based Wolok has been creating their own weird and unpredictable take on black metal and doom for almost two decades now, offering hints of familiarity and then running in the opposite direction. Their previous efforts have been known for alien sounding chords, hints of industrial and electronic elements, and all sorts of other weirdness, and this year’s The Bilious Hues of Gloom is no exception. For album number four Wolok has continued to do what they do best, emphasizing stretches of repetitive yet alien sounding landscapes that are sure to draw in the more adventurous listener.
The group wastes no time in establishing that listeners are in for a strange and fucked up journey on The Bilious Hues of Gloom, as opener “Slough of Despond” opens with a burst of electronics before settling into a mid-tempo rhythm and guitar tones that sound like black metal that’s been tuned wrong on purpose. It’s bizarre and sure to be off-putting to some, but for those that like their metal weird this type of immediate madness is likely to draw them in further. What stood out to me on this first track is the drum arrangements that come in after the first minute or so, which I swear sounds like it moves from punk into straight up reggaeton. Each of the songs provides its own oddities and emphasizes something slightly different, with Wolok sometimes going into doom and drone territory with slow and repeated passages and other times reaching a mixture of electronic and black metal that gives off a vibe similar to Mysticum. It’s admittedly not unexpected for anyone that’s spent time with their previous albums, but they still bend and break the genre rules in ways that come across different from the rest of their discography. Highlights for me include the aforementioned “Slough of Despond” and the slow burning and ominous “Opalescent” that starts off as doom and moves into a fever dream of black metal chiptune on acid. Even with the weirdness and entrancing nature of Wolok’s music, when they go into doom/drone on tracks like “Yellow Bile” and “Gospel Truth” the material does start to drag and loses some of its impact over the extended track lengths.
The vocals prove to be just as unpredictable and strange as the instrumentation, which only adds to the appeal of what Wolok is going for on The Bilious Hues of Gloom. Initially you’re met with harsher screams and growls that have some added echo and distortion on them and sound like they’re going in and out of the wall of sound, but after a few minutes they become even more distorted and remind me of a mix between death industrial and black metal. The further into the album you get, the more inhuman and strange the sounds coming from the vocalist get, and that adds to the alien and nightmarish atmosphere of the material. The most striking track in this regard is “Opalescent”, which features sound clips in French and English that have a bit of a mental hospital feel to them before the distorted growling/talking takes over.
Chances are good that you’ll know from the first song if this album is too strange for your tastes, but if the very non-metal sounding drumming and strange tonalities intrigue you Wolok’s latest is well worth exploring further. Some of the longer tracks that head into more of a doom/drone direction come off as a bit repetitive and overstretched, but the overall impact remains one that will stick with listeners. Wolok has always done things in their own way, and almost twenty years later that is truer than ever. The Bilious Hues of Gloom is available from Brucia Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg