From Martin Mendez, bassist of the ubiquitous Opeth comes White Stones, a solo project that rapidly became much more, culminating now in their debut release, Kuarahy. Kuarahy is due for release on the 20th of March via Nuclear Blast Records.
Named after his birthplace in Uruguay, Kuarahy (pronounced Kwa-Ra-Hee) represents a return to his roots, both familial and musical. Mendez explores the forgotten paths of his ancestors via the style of music that remains his one true love. Death Metal. With a progressive edge and plenty of Latin flair, Mendez’s musical lineage is evident in every note of Kuarahy. He played all guitars and bass on the record, except for the solos; he brought some friends in for those. Opeth’s Frederik Akesson playing lead on all tracks except for The One, which features a solo from Per Eriksson of Katatonia and Bloodbath fame.
With White Stones rapidly turning into a serious proposition, Mendez then sought out a touring line up including former Cruciamentum drummer Jordi Farré, who also recorded drums for the record. He added Albert Martí and Joao Sassetti on rhythm and lead guitars respectively. Eloi Boucherie joined on vocals, someone he met in the earlier stages of the project at Farm of Sounds Studio in Barcelona. It was here Martin Mendez tried recording vocals himself but wasn’t happy with the result. Boucherie, vocalist in Catalonian death metal band Vidres A La Sang, had a crack at it and did a wonderful job, becoming the band’s vocalist.
Martin sent the tracks to Jaime Gomez’s UK-based Orgone studios for a professional quality mix, a process that went so well that Gomez would eventually go on to mix and master the finished record. That’s ten tracks of accessibly pulsating, groove-oriented death metal with a classic twist. “I really had one thing in mind,” he enthuses, “to be groovy- you have to groove, no matter what style of music you play. I recorded with a Fender Stratocaster with just a tiny bit of distortion- that’s rare for death metal, and then made the bass really distorted and fat to bring heaviness to the music.”
White Stones give us 10 tracks to sink our teeth into on Kuarahy. The total album length is around 41 minutes. It starts off straight away with the title track, Kuarahy, a 90 second intro. The Latino vibe really shines through in this short instrumental that has plenty of post metal elements to it. What really stands out is how crystal clear the guitars ring out. The production is top notch here.
Rusty Shell follows the intro, though not seamlessly. Often bands will use their 90 second intro as the building part of track two but that isn’t the case here. Kuarahy sets the overall tone and Rusty Shell hammers it home with a groove laden track that hits hard with a slower, bassy thump. Vocals are deep and powerful growls while the drums lash out a speedy tapping sound. The guitars operate in the murky depths too, occasionally raising up a bit with a higher toned melody as well as offering up a fiery little solo. It’s a strong song though not quite what I expected, in a good way. It’s certainly not straight up death metal. There are clear influences from other genres peering through from a little doom to loads of that promised groove to post metal but they all feel very at home and add to the song.
Worms comes next and will blow you away within the insanely catchy intro. There is a nice mix between the heavier death verses that punch hard with the crunching riff and dark vocals and a cleaner, rock sound that brings back a little South American style through the drum beat and melody. Worms is a quality piece of metal. Drowned in Time has a tough act to follow but instantly grabs your attention with a deep and somber harmonised melody. It’s a gloriously deep and smooth sound. The tranquility soon gets shattered though as a thick crunch of drums and bass pierce through. The riff bangs out infectiously mixing well with the thorny vocals while little melodic lines add a little flair. I really like how it suddenly stops, dropping back into the sombre melody of the start.
The One and Guyra are the next two tracks. The One brings more of the forceful riffing though sounds a bit too much like the rest of the album. It’s good but lacks a little identity. What doesn’t lack though is the drums. The speedy rumble during the verse is brilliant. The vocals get even deeper too,adding a little spice. There is an interesting slow down preceding a quirky and clever solo too that is very enjoyable, especially as it re-joins the song by building up a crunching rhythm that gets your head banging.
Guyra fades in guitar melody while a stylish drum rhythm taps out. There is a load more Latin flair lavished over the guitar melody too. The vocals are interesting on this one, moving from post style background screams to whispers. It’s definitely the quirkiest track on the album so far. That helps keep things fresh but it is hard to find a rhythm in this one. It does end with a banging solo though. Ashes comes next and drops us back into the deep, bassy groove again. The riff is cool as fuck. Supremely enjoyable. The drums are brilliant again and the vocals have real menace dripping from them. This is one of my favourites so far.
Infected Soul comes next and gets a bit more expansive starting with gentle cymbal taps and a bang of guitars that sounds like a clock chime counting down. A sudden guitar line pierces the melancholic veil before the rhythm starts building through the drums. There is a lot of interesting stuff going on here as it kicks in. The bassy riff sets the scene while the lead guitar seems to have its own plan, pulling you in all sorts of directions. Occasionally tough to follow, it does eventually settle into a fiery rhythm layered with groove and style. Chuck in a jazzy instrumental led by a punchy bass line and you have another strong track.
The penultimate track on Kuarahy is called Taste of Blood. An interesting riff led by the bass, of course, leads us on our way. It’s pretty strong but another that goes for the progressive and isn’t always easy to follow. Amidst the chaos there is a lot to like though. The vocals are sinister. The drums are mesmerising and it has my favourite solo on the album. That brings us to the closing track, Jasy.
Jasy is the shortest track on the album being less than 3 minutes long on an album of songs averaging around 4 and a half minutes. It’s really more of a long outro, and is purely instrumental pulling us heavily into the post metal arena. Beautiful clear melody sits nicely on a bass line. We get plenty of harmonising and emotional pulling on a song that is a morose delight to listen to even if it doesn’t feel like it fits the rest of the album exactly.
Kuarahy is a mesmerising listen. Supremely interesting and adventurous, calling it a death metal album almost feels a little belittling to it’s ambitious and expansive sound. It is progressive and technical and, being bass led, chock full of slamming groove. Musically the album is brilliant with the drums really standing out to me. The production is 1st class. I adore how the music seems to reach out through your headphones and occasionally wraps arms around you soothingly while also occasionally wrapping hands around your throat as your core gets shaken.
White Stones are the real deal. Not a project. Not a whim. A legitimate, top quality metal band that can make genuine waves across the genre. My only negative is that the more progressive songs sometimes seem to lose rhythm and descend into confusion. That, for many people, will be a plus whereas I admit I struggle a bit when the rhythm disappears. A minor, and personal, complaint that will hopefully be lost in the crashing waves of praise the album deserves.
White Stones Links
Kuarahy by White Stones (Nuclear Blast Records)
The Final Score - 8.5/10