White Stones’ first album, Kuarahy, was always meant to be a return to the roots for Martin Mendez – which means old school death metal, and brilliantly written, proggy heaviness at that. But it also represents a cultural meaning for Mendez, with the album title Kuarahy (pronounced Kwa-ra-hee) referring to his hometown in his native Uruguay. Mendez is best known for his work in Opeth, whose progressive style of death metal shot them to significance in the late 1990s and early 2000s. However, Opeth’s turn to a more 70s-inspired prog rock sound has proved divisive for some fans. Although there’s never been any doubt whatsoever that all of the band are content in doing so, some members of Opeth clearly still have that itch to write crushing death metal, and White Stones has proved a fantastic outlet for Mendez to get a bit of heaviness into the world.
Title track ‘Kuarahy’ opens the album, as a short, mysterious, psychedelic intro that gets the ball rolling. It’s much softer than the rest of the album, but an intriguing composition nonetheless before ‘Rusty Shell’ drops. It’s superb proggy death metal, although progressive in a 70s sense, not too dissimilar to what Opeth are doing at the moment. It does sound like old-school Opeth as well, but without the 10+ minute compositions – Kuarahy is a lot more compact. The production and guitar tone have a vintage warmth to them, and with the guitars tuned to E standard throughout the album, it gives off a charmingly retro vibe – albeit with fantastic guttural vocals over the top from Eloi Boucherie. The groovy ‘Worms’ is next, featuring a brilliantly written exotic lead guitar lick midway through, performed by a certain Fredrik Akesson, as a clever key change slides in.
‘Drowned in Time’ is my favourite song on the album, for the way it builds up in intensity from a soft, emotive chord sequence, through dynamic, mode and key changes. Before you realise it, White Stones have intelligently brought it up into full death metal mode, gutturals and all. By this point, it could be a long-lost Opeth track from the 2000s. The emotive chords recur throughout, and it truly makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. It’s five minutes of old-school, melodic glory, but still heavy throughout. Over the rest of the album, there are hints of sludginess, such as in ‘The One’ and the use of diminished chords in ‘Infected Soul’ towards the end of the album, but it still sounds analogue, crisp and warm. The production is absolutely stellar and perfectly nails what Mendez was after on this album, even throwing in some scary horror samples towards the end of ‘Taste of Blood’ to add to the overall effect.
The grooves are omnipresent throughout the album, but with a lot of musical and compositional intelligence that is a rare find in any genre. The mind-bending instrumental sections illuminate their respective songs rather than dominate them. The technicality on Kuarahy doesn’t sacrifice any of the heaviness and brutality, proving it a refreshing album in the modern death metal landscape, where modern acts seem to compete for the fastest playing, lowest tunings and most bizarre rhythmic passages. Kuarahy is unashamedly old-school in this sense, a true ‘return to roots’ album in every way. More modern-sounding death metal bands aren’t at fault for innovating and doing something new, but many could take a lesson or two from the less-is-more approach of White Stones.
Kuarahy is out now on Nuclear Blast – buy it here