I think we can all agree: there are few things that fit so perfectly together as metal and horror. Metal and all its many subgenres embrace the darkness of life, and use it to stoke the creative coals. Fear is the currency of horror, and metal’s focus on creating discomfort through dissonance stirs that feeling of fear as effectively as any horror film or story. Yet while many metal bands lean deep into blatant expressions of terror, the new debut LP by Russian power trio Dunwich use a subtle and steady hand to conjure their sonic nightmares.
Rather than giving us eight tracks of full-throttle distortion and speedpicking, Tail-Tied Hearts filters metallic sensibilities through the lenses of symphony and folk, using both gentle and blunt palettes in coloring each track. The clean, surf-tinged guitars that open “Solitude” and “Glow” quickly erupt into walls of fuzzed-out chords; likewise, the bass wanders along gentle walking lines that lead suddenly into overdriven runs and crunchy low notes. The drums use thundering double-bass to drive home the heavy, but that freight train of beats sometimes slows to a bluesy crawl or gentle trundle on the toms. The vocals range from operatic croons to guttural, throaty roars, like a siren singing from afar who morphs into a monster once their prey is in range.
The most driving part of the instrumentationon Tail-Tied Hearts must be the synthesizers. Forefront in the mix, the keys really steer the compositions; they create a symphonic layer from which the strings and drums spring into action. They also pump the songs full of atmospheric textures that complement each tune’s individual energies: “Mouth of Darkness” features a soaring organ running up and down the keys, while “Glow” and “Fall” soak in warbling hums that are simultaneously sweet yet spooky.
There is undoubtedly a cosmic, otherwordly feel to the music of Dunwich—an appropriate sentiment to impart, given their band name’s tie to the horror fiction of H.P Lovecraft. Like most of his works, “The Dunwich Horror” is loaded with visceral, deep descriptions of the landscape and atmosphere, yet the terror of the story is communicated through uncomfortable, subtle implication.
This is what Tail-Tied Hearts does too: every song fills the sonic space with colorful yet brooding soundscapes, while letting the angular chord changes and sudden dynamic shifts really impart the darkness underlying the light. What reaches the ears is undeniably beautiful, technical, and emotional, but the horror held within seeps into the subconscious where it seethes and haunts the mind.
Even Dunwich’s lyrical work reflects this theme of subtle darkness and the horror it breeds. Both “Through the Dense Woods” and “Solitude” dive deep the concept of loneliness and the toll it can take, turning the mind against the self: “you wear your fears like a crown of thorns.” “Wooden Heart” plays like an old wives’ tale warning of a danger straight out of folklore, a cunning creature who lures their prey in with love: “beautiful as Aphrodite / awful as Leviathan…Wooden heart of maiden will bring you only suffering.” While these concepts might not be gut-wrenching horror, they succeed in coaxing a viscous anxiety out of the songs, and instill the type of primal fear that keeps us looking over our shoulders when we walk through the woods, or that hurries our steps as we climb a dark stairwell.
Tail-Tied Hearts somehow manages to be an ostensibly beautiful listen while keeping my skin in constant gooseflesh. Crawling beats, roiling chord changes, and sudden bursts of death growl vocals maintain the tension at a painful high across the record’s entire length. They blur the line between beauty and darkness, until there is no line, until everything beautiful is dark, and everything dark, beautiful. Dunwich have crafted a debut record that manages to kiss you sweetly on the lips while shoving sewing needles under your fingernails; we can only wait and see what painful pleasures they dream up next.
My Top Track: “Solitude”
Tail-Tied Hearts drops August 21st via Caligari Records. You can preorder physical or digital copies via Bandcamp, or follow the band on Spotify. For all things Dunwich, follow them on Facebook or Instagram @dunwich.church.