The Ladder represents this Californian black metal act's first full-length effort in six years. After years of splits with Mastery (good in small doses), Botanist (good, depending on the kind of album he releases) and Thoabath (I've never heard these guys) the one man project finally decided to release something a little bit different than his work in Botanist. Yes, Balan here is also the mastermind behind Botanist and he's giving us something much different than we'd receive in said act (of course.) We start out with “The Twilight Divide” which definitely gives off that black metal atmosphere and attitude, though it also injects some actual atmosphere into the mix, as in a lengthy middle-piece in which to contemplate. Then we have “From The Ash” which seems to be a little more simpler and does it's job. After that, things begin to change and genre hopping soon begins. Death/Doom is heavily explored with “Nightworld” even though it defaults back to black metal (as well as some unexpected female chanting and vocals) yet once again goes back into the cold and forlorn tones of doom once again. An electronic piece comes in shortly thereafter, seeming a bit out of place and perhaps like something that might play during a science-fiction based FPS, but that rolls back into what I would consider an even more sullen form of metal in “Strange Constellations.” Like most compositions here, that doesn't quite stay the same and soon involves progressive sections as well as another moment of silence and some more good old doom. Then we get to “Wreath” where things start to take a major turn, which isn't black metal at all. As a matter of fact, it reminds me a little bit more of the Gothic rock of mid-era Antahema or even Sisters Of Mercy. Didn't see that one coming did you? But I certainly can't say that I'm upset with it, because finally this guy gives me something that I can really sink my teeth into. We get one more black metal cut in the form of “Ephemeral Blues” which isn't really blues at all. Despite it's length, it's pretty straight-forward, a bit bland and I could have done without it. Just sounds like a track I've heard before done by a different artist.
In any case, the performance here delivered shows a much different and far bleaker side from Balan. Apparently he's going through some rather difficult things in his life right now, or has been exposed to the very worst of Tumblr (either will drive one to insanity) but the end result has been one of presence, it feels very much alive and evokes the sort of personal sense that one can only get when they're making a record that isn't only coming from their ideology and worldview, but from their own sense to explore the medium of music in a much different way than others might expect. Those who know this gentleman by his real name know that he's an experimental black metal artist (well, some of them – I doubt his grandmother knows) and probably never would have suspected such doomful dirges to ready their approach into familiar frostbitten corridors of which most listeners are quite familiar. It's still black metal, I suppose – there's definitely the black metal/doom/experimental tags being thrown around here and that simply goes without saying. Though compared to his work in Botanist, I'd consider Palace Of Worms by and large more interesting. I hope it won't be another six years before we get another helping. Balan needs to let his plants soak in the sun lamps for a while, and tend to his, uh... worm-ridden palace. At least I tried, folks.
(7 Tracks, 46:00)