It would be easy to peg Chrome Waves’ The Cold Light of Despair as a filler release. The compilation is coming out just months after their first full-length, A Grief Observed, and features a 50-50 mix of original songs and covers left over from that album’s recording sessions. However, an emphasis on the band’s softer textures results in them expressing a different side of their capabilities on what would otherwise be a cobbled together effort.
This approach is made immediately apparent with the three originals. The torturously slow build on “Bound” may make for an odd choice of opener, but its booming drumbeats provide a strong foundation for more subtle guitar, textural synths and strings, and a lethargic mix of clean and harsh vocals. “Spirits Descend” and “Slow Refrain” scale things back even further with more domineering synths, abstract rhythms, exclusive cleans, and more folk-oriented guitar work on the latter.
The band chose wisely when it came to their cover songs, opting for tracks with inherent moodiness that would allow for a more personable flavor. Their take on Slowdive’s “When the Sun Hits” may be the most powerful track on here as the dual vocals and heavier guitar injections reach a bright, life affirming climax. A version of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” makes for an effective closer, not quite matching the original but still offering its own brand of haunting mystery.
But no matter what the band is going for, the atmosphere is always on point. There is nary a trace of black metal to be found, but the production has a gray haziness common in the genre that is further reinforced by the performances’ dark melancholy. The synths never feel superfluous, even when they’re taking over the guitars, and the vocals are effectively sparse. Part of me feels like the drums could’ve been more active throughout but I wouldn’t want anything too pummeling.
While The Cold Light of Despair isn’t as masterful as Chrome Waves’ ‘proper’ releases, it’s a surprisingly cohesive listen in its own right. Its minimal extreme elements may be a turnoff for more aggressively minded listeners, but its slower pacing remains right in line with the established somberness. It makes for a solid companion to A Grief Observed. With the group gearing up for a second full-length in 2020, it’ll be interesting to see if these more melodic tendencies are developed even further.
“When the Sun Hits”