Poland has produced its share of excellent black metal over the years; while the spotlight is dominated by the blackened death (and social media savvy) of Behemoth or the nitpicking surrounding Mgła, we should never forget this is a country known for its struggles, resistance movements and indomitable spirit as well as its Slavic heritage, making it well-placed on the roster of discontent and of pagan tradition that fuels so much black metal. It should be no surprise, therefore, that a band like Szary Wilk should hail from these shores and deliver such cold, dismal and bleak sounds as a result, accurately recalling both the pioneering presences of Graveland or Arkona’s early offerings to the genre on their debut full-length, Wrath.
The name of the record is apt on several levels, too: the fury that drives the raw, unpolished production is palpable and fits the nostalgic, second-wave mould beautifully: but deeper, longer-term engagement with the record leaves a holistic impression more of melancholy than of rage. “Wilczy Taniec” is the most explicitly driven, angry sound on the record, but the remainder tends to muddy and even vague meandering set to unfocused percussion. There is an unfortunate disconnect wherein the rhythm section on Wrath is a blasting automaton, lending no sensitivity of finesse to the carefully articulated guitar work. This contrast is lost in the initial low-fi virulence of the album, but repeated listening makes the gap ever wider.
The title track, “Wrath,” closes the album. Talk about ending on a high note.
And that’s really a shame because the melodic side of things is a delight: clever harmonies, great discordance, and a rasping, diseased vocal performance. The album introduction, “Mortal” combines these effectively from a ‘single’ perspective into a moody, sprawling monolith, but it is on “Behind the Curtain of Death” and “Mortuos Voco” that the composition fits together better. Perhaps the shorter format (“Mortal” clocks in at over eight minutes, while the others are around the far more digestible five-minute mark) is the trick for Szary Wilk, especially given the chasm between melody and rhythm.
The other gap in need of addressing is the cover art: the lycanthropic theme presented is artistically and aesthetically sound, but incongruous as little to no overt mention is made of werewolves. As an archetype of supernatural fury and, indeed Wrath, I can understand the inclusion but as an external observer, it does paint a rather different picture than what the musical content conveys.
In summation, Szary Wilk has started down a promising path, demonstrating laudable musicianship and an affinity for orthodox black metal. Sadly, while many of the right notes are hit, there are too many notes being aimed for and the scattered targets make for an unfinished and unfocused product. That said, there is still room to grow; a clearer thematic direction and a stronger voice behind the kit would result in a far more authentic product, but it is still early days for Szary Wilk.
“Mortuos Voco,” in all its death-celebrating glory.
Wrath Track Listing:
2. Behind the Curtain of Death
3. Mortuos Voco
4. Wilczy Taniec
Run Time: 32:49
Release Date: February 19, 2021
Record Label: Putrid Cult