Belgium. Home to exceptional pommes frites, a surfeit of waffles, as well as dunk!festival, which is arguably the most important festival of post-rock as a genre, but also home to a plethora of bands and artists operating within the realms of that movement, some of which probably came into existence because of said festival. Needless to say, it’s a dream for many to have the privilege of gracing their stages at some point. The Leuven-based sextet, WANHEDA, played dunk!festival in 2019, in support of their debut EP, The Cenozoic Implosion, and now they’re back with their debut album – Desert of Real!
At this point, I would usually get on with the review in one way or other, perhaps through some timeline on how the band came to be, their influences, or the meaning behind the name of the band, but instead I’m going to drop a spoiler warning and suggest you listen to the album first because it’s full of surprises. Clocking in at just under 50 minutes, the album opens with the track “To Kallisti, The Most Beautiful”, which starts off sounding like an innocuous intro, with some classic tremolo action, while slowly picking up some speed and a very pleasant bass tone adding some additional depth before finally erupting in a climax, as prophesied by the crescendocore deities of ages past. Don’t get me wrong though – I don’t mind when it’s predictable. It’s comforting knowing when and where the “drop” is happening, and what happens after it. Here’s where it gets interesting though. It doesn’t actually end after the climax, but shifts into a completely different gear, adding a trumpet and just rocks on, with tons of energy. Very unexpected, but I love it.
Next up is “Akathisia”. A highly evocative and sombre track, yet strangely uplifting at the same time. Again, the trumpet adds so much to this, making me wish more bands would find ways to implement this instrument. What do you get if you combine the atmospheric properties of post-rock with blues though? The answer is “Lucid Antidote”, the third track, and it works very well, so now I want more of this as well. Alright. That’s three for three. Surely that’s the end of all the surprises? No. “Dunamis” is an intermission of sorts, played on a steel-stringed acoustic guitar. Even the title track, “The Desert of Real”, showcases yet another side of this band. The progress they’ve made in such a short time is breathtaking.
Let’s face it – A track-by-track analysis isn’t going to do this album any justice. The unpredictable nature and sheer eclectic breadth of this album, combined with the fact that this is WANHEDA’s debut album are, simply put, extraordinary. Every track is its own universe, making Desert of Real a gift that keeps on giving, one that I suspect will become the reference point others will be measured against in 2022.