Somewhere between southern gothic, post-punk, and doom rock lies the unique niche occupied by North Carolina’s Wailin Storms. The band’s rustic, cavernous tumult merits comparisons to everyone from 16 Horsepower and Swans to Type O Negative and Christian Death—tied together by dissonant heaviness and emotive storytelling. Behind walls of terrifying noise lie potently frightful tales. The quartet’s punishing riffs and gripping lyrics become more visceral on this third LP. Rattle takes Wailin Storms to their darkest, scariest territory to date.
Frontman Justin Storms begins the title track with Black Sabbath-esque guitar strains. His transfixing voice builds tension with chilling groans until the song explodes into a menacingly catchy refrain. Storms lives up to his band’s name, channeling his inner Peter Steele with a sordid love story: “Rattle my heart/ Shake my bones… Breath in my love/ Swim around my floor.” He and lead guitarist Todd Warner pile countless layers of discordant distortion on the song’s descending chord progression, as haunting singing turns to crazed shrieking. The band reprises its striking emotional impact, with a much heavier delivery.
Single “Grass” might be the spookiest on the record, with Storms’ acapella intro evoking a blues spiritual. He recounts a deceased lover and love-sick hauntings as plodding percussion and resonant chords build to a fever pitch. Like the love child of David Tibett and Michael Gira, his demure baritone and piercing shouts accentuate the rising dread of his lyrical narrative.
Wailin Storms' tangible passion remains rooted in earthy grit, as exemplified by the slithering swamp-rock of “Wish.” Drummer Mark Oates and bassist Steve Stanczy lay down a swaying, rumbling groove for spine-tingling feedback swells and tortured vocalizations. The culminating riff, while relatively simple, effortlessly bridges chest-beating sludge metal and harrowing occult rock.
Unsurprisingly, Wailin Storms’ suffocating nihilism remains the heart of more deathrock-influenced cuts like “Rope” and “Teeth.” Storms works himself up to maniacal caterwauls in the former cut as he delivers the album’s most memorable line: “Take the rope that hugs our throat/ And wrap it around the tree that fucks the ground.” The latter track could easily make it onto a playlist with Sisters of Mercy, but takes a turn for Daughters-style noisecore during that last crescendo. Whether Wailin Storms center on slow-burning horror scenes or frenetic chaos, it finds a way to push the velocity and volume over the edge of insanity.
Wailin Storms deal more in grizzled rock and roll than flashy shredding. The battering punk elements of “Sun” have more in common with Melvins than textured metal. Even so, its noisy, unfiltered atmosphere paints a vivid picture of a forsaken desert nomad. The ideas at play, while simple on the surface, reveal their true depth when approached with patience and thoughtfulness.
These underlying nuances bring “Crow” from sparse rim clicks and moody noodling to its concluding pandemonium. Like the best horror cinema, its full effect lies in contextualizing Storms’ lyrics against the suspenseful soundscapes. The dynamic arrangements suddenly begin to manifest the plight of a doomed protagonist.
After an album’s worth of ruminating on mortality and impending doom, the band truly lets loose with hopeless abandon on “End.” Rattle’s final toll brings some of the album's most ominous modulations and bombastic dynamics—capped off by a jaw-dropping conclusion. “Before the final hour/ I hear the shadows calling our name again,” Storms sounds like he’s staring the reaper in the face, as he howls for the dead amid the album's defining conclusion. The cacophonous procession lingers in the air like a mist—a harbinger for a grim specter.
If Wailin Storms set out to profoundly scare everyone, it’s hard to think of a better method than Rattle. It’s a road-weary, earnest, and unflinching look at human frailty. It explores carnal desires, pain, and fear, only to point at ultimate demise. While its aura remains mysterious and infectious, the album's disturbingly realistic account makes it one of the most unsettling listens of the year.