My first introduction to Gaerea’s Unsettling Whispers was coming across the music video for the track “Catharsis” – I immediately appreciated its mix of minimalist black and white aesthetics and a heavy black metal track.
Unsettling Whispers fades in with a mix of synth elements and subdued screeching in the background throughout the opener. A distinct grunge flavor can be heard in “Svn” which melds with tortured screeches, groans, and synths. I find less anger and more desperation than ye average Black Metal record opening and appreciate it. Some heavy Blackened Death goodness cuts in about five minutes into “Svn,” leaving me pleased with the opening.
Dynamic drum tempos feature throughout the record and I will note that Gaerea has opted for a truly grand sound, eschewing the deliberately lo-fi shenanigans some bands go through pains to execute. The second track, “Absent” comes in metered but heavy before reverting to blast beats and tantalizingly eerie breaks in pace. I enjoyed this one because it achieves an ambitious sound without veering into symphonic territory as some more digestible heavy music tends to. Third track “Whispers” even has an industrial vibe to its opening but strongly resembles the two preceding songs overall.
The A-side fades out with single notes interspersed with silence. The B-side swoops back in bringing the listener into…predictable but enjoyable Black Metal. While fullness of Unsettling Whispers alone makes for a satisfying record, their technical ability elevates it only to “goodness” but not to “greatness.” The latter half of the album features a structure similar to the tracks on the A -side (many great albums are structured), but the album doesn’t throw any surprises at the listener despite being high-quality overall. The second half of the album ebbs and flows between breakdowns and blast beats, but it’s all been heard before one quarter of the way through.
I do have to appreciate Gaerea’s inclusion of bass on their debut, often excluded from Black Metal either due to cost restrictions in young bands or due to lo-fi kvlt hipsterism. The vocals on this album are another standout element; Not a standard black metal screech, but more like what one typically hears on a death/deathcore record while flirting with (but never committing to) clean singing.
In summary Unsettling Whispers gets a solid B grade for being enjoyable but largely being without variability or innovation. When black metal acts stray too far from classic features (think second wave), without innovation (think splicing in Dungeon Synth), they veer too close to mainstream music which kills the buzz for many extreme music listeners.
Find the album on Gaerea’s Bandcamp.