The concept of metal without electric guitars might feel like an oxymoron. After all, guitar riffs of one type or another have been the key bedrock of the genre ever since Black Sabbath. But Wreche is different. John Steven Morgan, the multi-instrumentalist and vocalist behind the band, makes a kind of experimental black metal using acoustic piano as the lead instrument. All My Dreams Came True (Handmade / Acephale Winter Productions) is the second Wreche album and the first on which Morgan operates Wreche as a one-man-band (aside from two guest appearances), providing synthesizers, drums, and vocals as well as what the press release describes as an “88 key, 700lb behemoth running hot on distortion and space echo.” Morgan also recorded, mixed, and mastered the album himself.
In spite of the unusual instrumentation, All My Dreams Came True is perhaps surprisingly familiar-sounding to ears used to progressive black metal. The blast beat drums and tortured screams keep for the most part within the boundaries of what we are used to hearing in extreme metal. The space in between these elements is filled out in a very different way, however. Synthesizers provide the “meat” in the heavy sections, in the form of grating power chords and bass drones. They are also used in the manner of an orchestra to add layers of intricate harmony which enhances the emotional poignancy of the musical atmospheres.
The piano works incredibly well as a lead instrument, largely due to Morgan’s ability to generate an atypically fierce cacophony from the instrument, which keeps up with the ferocity of the blasting metal. The use of the piano allows the music to be pulled in directions that would not be possible without it. Sometimes the playing style leans more towards avant-garde dissonance, at other times the intricate flourishes borrow from Romantic music, and sometimes the arpeggios owe more to minimalism. Each of these textures works unexpectedly well when set against a metal backdrop.
The song structures too are progressive and experimental. The pieces don’t really follow a traditional metal structure. Instead, they go through movements, each with different moods and sounds; the music might morph into calm ambiance, mysterious spacey prog metal, or discombobulating experimental weirdness. Ideas are returned to and expanded upon in the manner of classical variations. In fact, there are times when the music breaks right down to a solo piano, and we could momentarily be listening to a contemporary classical record. Throughout all of these shifts, there is a running thread of melancholy, pain, and sadness. The fact that Morgan’s unhinged and frightening vocals stay mostly in the same anguished and desperate mode provides a satisfying continuity even as the music underneath shifts around.
Highlights of the record include the stomach-churning dizziness of the beginning of “Scherzo”, the driving synth riffs and blast beats at the start of “Severed”, the forlorn symphonic chord sequences throughout “The Darkling Thrush”, and the cathartic urgency of the ending to “Les Fluers Mov. 2” (which also closes the album).
Genuinely new, innovative and forward-thinking concepts often have elements that are less effective, though, and All My Dreams Came True is not without its flaws. The drums are occasionally a little too ramshackle in terms of their performance and production. And in some sections, the marriage of lush orchestral layers with blasting metal feels a little uneasy, as though the two are in competition. Occasional imperfection is perhaps an inevitable consequence of trying to singlehandedly rewrite the rulebook of a genre.
Wreche is an incredibly unusual project and All My Dreams Came True genuinely pushes the boundaries of what extreme metal can encompass. Whether or not you like it, this music is interesting and important in that it shows that there are still new sounds and textures to be explored within the world of metal and that there is still scope to redefine what the genre can be. Anyone with an open-minded attitude and an interest in truly progressive and heavy music should hear this album.
All My Dreams Came True is out now on vinyl, cassette, digital download and sheet music formats via Handmade / Acephale Winter Productions. Buy the album here: https://wreche.bandcamp.com/
7 / 10