The Ladder is an essential listen for anyone who considers themselves a fan of modern black metal. Palace of Worms create an array of atmospheric soundscapes across seven long tracks of dynamic and emotionally charged dark and brooding black metal.
Combining the sounds from multiple black metal scenes comes Palace of Worms, a solo project which allows the bands mastermind, Balan, to express himself both musically and emotionally. His latest album, entitled The Ladder, is a record seeping with raw emotion as he details both the light and dark sides of humanity. Despite only being seven tracks long The Ladder is a long winding journey full of twists and turns showcasing a deep understanding of what makes black metal such an affecting genre.
As already mentioned this record takes influence from a whole host of black metal scenes drawing from the sinister and evil sounds of the genres heavily publicised Norwegian roots. The Ladder takes this and fuses it with the more melodic and beautiful stylings of bands such as Agalloch and Alcest. Upon hearing this record you also get a sense that there is also some degree of influence being taken from other genres too. There are multiple times that the guitars kick into brutally sludgy grooves that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Neurosis album. This is evident from the get go as opening track In the Twilight Divide goes from the fast strumming of a mandolin into a pummelling riff dripping with bass heavy low end distortion.
Despite Balan stating he wanted to go away from the eviller sound of his previous work there is still some remnants of that sickeningly sinister sound. Songs like Nightworld feature riffs that come straight from the old school death metal scene as winding swirling morbid angel style riffs are accompanied by the earth shattering roar of the vocals. Due to this album thematically being about Balan and his feelings towards the light and dark of humanity The Ladder does an incredible job of reflecting these emotions through its dynamic use of different sounds.
The aforementioned Nightworld is most representative of this as it shifts between the spite fuelled screech of the main vocals and a mid-section bursting with shimmering beauty as your drawn into the ethereal sound of the female vocals. This light and dark dynamic runs throughout the entirety of this record you have songs like From the Ash which are relentless blasts of fast drumming and frenetic fret work compared to tracks like An Innate Sickness which slow the pace with atmospheric synths and intricate melodies. This song also does a great job of breaking up the album, appearing right in the middle of the record the song allows some breathing space giving it time to almost compose itself before diving into the 12-minute epic Strange Constellations.
The only problem The Ladder really has is its length. Most tracks on this record seem to be around the seven-minute mark with some being even longer. Not that there is any issue with long songs especially with this type of music but it’s hard not to think this album would be improved with just a little of the fat being trimmed off. This is possibly due to the fact the band is a solo project and there isn’t anyone in particular telling Balan what works and what doesn’t. The lengthier songs do, as previously mentioned, take different directions during their run time but listening to this record front to back again feels somewhat of an arduous task.
For anyone seeking something a bit different from the black metal scene then The Ladder is certainly recommended. Despite its minor flaws regarding song length, which for some won’t even be an issue, this album is a great representation of what can be done with this genre. Full of songs brimming with emotionally powerful music Palace of Worms hand-pick the best elements from the ever changing world of black metal and make something equally original and individual.