Somewhere along the lines of life, we fucked up. In search of greed and/or power, we as a people made possible the outcomes of injustice, war, oppression, famine, and many more I just don’t have the time or space to list. For better or worse, those societal ills and failures have inspired countless stories and creations tinged with hope for a better future, fighting back, and generally rejecting a reality we find ourselves in and heading more toward.
Knowing this, it’s no surprise that a band like Wallowing see the reality we’re faced with and substitute their own, even if it’s more grim than ours on the surface. There’s a point to that though - lean into abject horror and destruction, show people alienated beyond belief, and still, somehow, conclude with them in a better place than they were in the beginning. It’s inspiring, though you wouldn’t guess from the ridiculously heavy music this anonymous UK quintet deal with.
Earth Reaper is the band’s second album, continuing the hard sci-fi narrative from their first LP, Planet Loss. Still, you don’t need to know much of anything going into this one because the music speaks for itself. What you get is an immovable, relentless anvil of sludge and doom metal across seven songs whose collective density escapes easy classification, but is easily enjoyable to those that can deal with the weight. Of the seven, you’ll notice from the tracklisting, at least on Bandcamp, that four songs are listed in all caps - this is the meat of Earth Reaper, the narrative tracks with story and music. The remaining three listed in standard title case are atmospheric interludes preceding each substantial song.
“FLESH AND STEEL” is absolutely killer, churning up nice and early with dreadful (in terms of mood, not quality) guitars leading into explosive drums. For as caustic as Wallowing’s music is, there’s always room for especially catchy segments and you’ll find the first of many in the middle of “FLESH AND STEEL”, a riff primed with apocalyptic intent. Vocals are generally from the perspective of three distinct roles: a narrator, humanoids, and androids. They are appropriately modulated and robotic during certain times, but every word gurgled from the vocalist (named X1, like every other member of the band) is sinister and atrocious, almost unknowable. This is not an affable world, too far gone to contain any salvageable good.
“CRIES OF ESTIMA” resigns itself to a doomier modality, irradiated by the slower pace as the story of survival begins to take more shape. All instruments plod forth with funereal tones, but our survivor in question is very much alive, the rhythmic heartbeat of the track mimicking her own. “CYBORG ASPHYXIATION” closes out the album’s first half with remarkably dense and vile noise that fits the title. It’s as doomed as “CRIES OF ESTIMA”, yet slaked with refined and infectious movements like in “FLESH AND STEEL”; this track uses its 10 minutes exploring every tone in between, including more flashy fare, masterfully. It’s eruptive and feral, completely divorced from decency - I only wish I knew what the lyrics and story were at this point.
The title track makes up the entire second half of Earth Reaper at nearly 22 minutes and goddamn, what a mammoth. Wallowing play some wild cards here to keep things very interesting, including a nimble section that smacks of wily stoner rock influence, or like Thin Lizzy were converted into transhuman cyborg riff dealers. I could fill an entire second review of just this song alone. It feels like the end with its creeping noise walls and death march rhythms, but also feels like a rebirth of Wallowing because of how bold and replete it is with good ideas that dip into just about every extreme music well known to humankind. “EARTH REAPER” is magnum opus-level shit.
Not much time was spent here comparing Earth Reaper to Planet Loss and frankly that’s because this album almost reads like a reinvention of Wallowing’s sound. It’s such a big leap in not only writing and execution, but general quality and (relative) digestibility as well. Where the band generated buzz and appeared promising before, now they can revel in knowing that they haven’t just avoided a sophomore slump, but jettisoned the very notion out into the blackest reaches of space to shrivel and die. This is a truly great album.
Bottom line: Earth Reaper is cataclysmic, every bit as ruinous as you would expect from the name. It’s a phenomenally realized album that puts heft at the forefront, impressively competent, both digging deeper into established stylistic expression while also taking in additional influences like a high-power tractor beam. It’s unusually good. Where Wallowing go from here is just about anyone’s guess, but a couple things are certain: it will be prodigious and stunningly awful.