Written by Kep
Wreche – All My Dreams Came True
Black metal from California, USA
Releasing May 14th, 2021
When someday I teach a college course on heavy metal, one of the things I’ll cover on the first day of class is the basic instrumentation of the style: guitar(s), bass, vocals, drums. Some bands drop vocals from the standard lineup (Animals as Leaders, Behold the Arctopus), some drop the bass (Eremit, formerly Pig Destroyer), and some will even drop the guitar (Bell Witch, Necromantia). Autarkh even blew minds earlier this year by using DJ-style beats instead of a drumkit.
This brings me to California avant-garde black metal project Wreche, which stands out from the crowd in a big way, and not just for what mastermind John Steven Morgan *removes* from the standard configuration. Wreche has no guitar or bass; in their place is an absolute king of an instrument, one that can be found in all sorts of heavy music but is almost never the featured item. It’s a 1000+ pound beast that holds an especially close place in my heart: the piano.
Here’s the part where you are now entirely within your metalhead rights to question whether a band with no guitar, no bass, and featuring keyboards in their place is truly a metal band. Go on, get it out of your system. I’ll wait.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, press play on the Bandcamp player below and brace yourself for an absolute typhoon of unapologetically emotional, horrifyingly violent and yet breathtakingly beautiful metal. All My Dreams Came True is a strange duality of sensations: glowing celestial splendor juxtaposed with agonizing, icy darkness. It doesn’t seem like it should work, but it does.
Dreams is actually the second release by Wreche, after a self-titled effort in 2017, but I’m pretty confident that this is the one that’s going to bring this to the wider view of the metal scene. Morgan is essentially working as a one-man show, playing all instruments himself (except for drums on one track, which features Barret Baumgart, who handled drums on the self-titled), handling all the songwriting, and doing nearly all the production work. One-man projects tend to have a singular sort of focus, and this is no exception. What Morgan has created is something that is undeniably black metal in aesthetic and mood, but turns the traditional premise on its head. It’s a striking accomplishment.
So…how the hell do I describe the seven tracks that make up All My Dreams Came True in a way that does them justice? Well, let’s start with the drums, which are relatively standard black metal fare, but aren’t overly repetitive or boring. There are a ton of blast beats, natch, and since there aren’t any biting guitar lines to add impetus, they serve as the main force that keeps driving the music forward. Morgan’s drumming is the backbone of this record, because it’s the biggest reason that Dreams still lands with some aggression. His vocals are steeped in suffering and as anguished as any I’ve ever heard. They’re pained, frustrated, tortured, and they’re undeniably effective, even though there are but a few places where they can be understood.
Now for the stars of the show: the keyboards, which comprise the core of Wreche’s guitar-free sound. The piano, of course, is the more exciting of the two keyboard instruments, especially given the virtuosic playing that Morgan manages. You’ll find a bit of everything, from grand and majestic chords, to flying arpeggiations, to sidewinding broken octaves, to ostinato-style staccato passages, to gorgeous legato melodies. Check out the opening passages of “In Agony, to the Earth – and Heaven” and “The Darkling Thrush” for moody piano passages that really show off his ear for dark sounds. He also leans on a hefty dose of synth; it plays longer tones/chords and fills out the middle of the sonic area. This helps to carry consistent musical lines (the kind that might be tremolo-picked by a guitar) that the piano can’t in the same way—by its very nature, the piano’s pitches decay audibly from the moment they’re struck, much more so than an amped guitar’s pitches do, and so Morgan opts to focus the piano on those flying, arpeggiated, chord-based licks. Sometimes, though, he lets the synth shine by itself, like in centerpiece “Severed”, which doesn’t contain any piano until over 4 minutes in, and as a result leans a little into noise/electronic territory (and honestly, it spends a good amount of time in post-black territory once the piano arrives).
I won’t get overly into the little details of the notes that he’s playing on the 88-key monster—I don’t want to get too obnoxious, as we classical musicians often are—but suffice it to say that the majority of what you hear sounds more difficult than it actually is. And that’s okay! It’s not a knock at all! Classical pianists will tell you the same thing about much of the virtuosic composition of Liszt and other Romantic era legends: those massive note-filled runs up and down the keyboard are often much flashier than they are technically difficult. Using that sort of writing method is smart here in Wreche’s music, because it helps to create a bed and breadth of sound while still offering tons of ear-catching lines and licks.
So what doesn’t work as well? The thing I think this album misses the most from a more traditional lineup is the bass. The piano is a big instrument with a massive range, but its bottom end, at least within this mix and with Morgan’s playing style, doesn’t carry a ton of weight when compared to a bass guitar. It’s not uncommon for black metal to be light in the bass department, so it’s not a dealbreaker, but my ears wanted to hear something heftier to fill out the bottom end. I also feel that the length of Dreams is asking a bit much of the listener; I’m into the overall vibe that Wreche has going, but over an hour of that vibe is probably going to test most people’s ears a little too much, especially those who aren’t already in love with the piano like I am.
But speaking about All My Dreams Came True as a whole, perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the album is simply this: I found that it wasn’t long before I’d stopped trying to figure out how and how well the piano and synths filled in for the guitars. I was just living in the music, sinking into a sonic world where the ethereal clashes with the grotesque. It’s a strange place, and not one I expected to get so comfortable in, but I’m happy that I did. Listen to Wreche, and meet me there.
Favorite track: Les Fleurs II