What Graceless Dawn
Profound Lore Records
Reviewed By Michael O'Brien
Of all of the diverse bands on Canadian label Profound Lore’s roster, San Francisco’s Worm Ouroboros are perhaps the band that embodies the extremity of that diversity the most.
Lead by Jessica Way (guitar, vocals) and Lorraine Rath (bass, vocals), along with the drumming of Aesop Dekker, Worm Ouroboros has always been an act that exists on the periphery of what would normally be considered to be heavy metal by most people I would think. Their eponymous 2010 debut album is the closest they came to existing within the metal realm, with a sound that brought to mind something akin to early 3rd and the Mortal, albeit with what I consider to be a much stronger grasp of the interplay between light and shade and, as a result, a better grasp of how to wring heady amounts of emotion out of their otherwise minimalist approach to song craft.
2012’s Come the Thaw saw Worm Ouroboros cocoon themselves deeper into the more ethereal and introspective side of their sound, and this is a path they’ve continued further along with album number three - What Graceless Dawn.
As much as I highly respect the immense compositional talent possessed by Worm Ouroboros’ members, I have to admit that I can find their material to wander and become a little too ponderous and inward looking for me at times. I didn’t find this to be too much of an issue on their debut album - perhaps because it rode more of a traditional heavy metal wave - but Come the Thaw had a tendency to leave me feeling a little cold in places, as though I was stuck on the outside of something amazing and were left on the outside looking in, and this feeling of a slight detachment has continued with What Graceless Dawn, despite all of its otherwise stellar and often captivating qualities.
It may not be a terribly accurate comparison (and is perhaps even a lazy one), but I’ve often thought that the music of Worm Ouroboros might be what an artist like Loreena McKennitt or even Enya at their moodiest might come up with if they decided to release a doom album. There’s an unmistakable neo-folk quality that weaves itself through the band’s dark ambient and doom, and it’s the dual vocals of Way and Rath that are the real emotive crux of what Worm Ouroboros do, with the minimalism of the music often serving as the textural foundation upon which they build their masterful juxtaposition of emotions. This isn’t to suggest that the other instruments have nothing to do, however. Far from it in fact.
The first real glimpse of the power of the rest of the band’s arsenal can be had during second track, “Broken Movements”, when the slow and minimalist first section eventually crescendos at the five-minute mark with a sublime riff that’s made all the more impactful by the equally engaging bass line and the powerful, crashing drumming of Dekker. It’s a cathartic experience that actually doesn’t occur as often as you might expect for something as deep and weighty as What Graceless Dawn, and the album benefits greatly from its ability to exercise restraint and shy away from the easy payoff.
I think above all else, it’s the sense that everything has its place and has been deliberately and meticulously arranged that is the truly wondrous thing about Worm Ouroboros, and the thing that I love most about them - even when what they’re actually doing doesn’t click with me as much as I’d like it to. Furthermore, while the material is often glacially slow and even spartan in places, it takes little more than a cursory listen to it to realise that there’s a fiery intensity underlying it; that the individuals who composed it are deadly serious about their craft. It seems ridiculous to say, but that’s not something you can always rely on and it’s incredibly refreshing when you do.
When it comes down to it, What Graceless Dawn, and Worm Ouroboros in general, will not appeal to everybody, and I don’t really believe they’re trying to. This is a band that has a very specific vision of what they want to create, and I suspect that only the most adventurous will be willing to invest the time and effort into joining the band on their journey. This isn’t because the journey isn’t worth undertaking, but because the road can be just as hard and lonely as it can be beautiful, and the guide is, of necessity, the listener alone.