White Moth Black Butterfly
1st September 2017 – Kscope Records
01. I: Incarnate
02. Rising Sun
04. An Ocean Away
06. II: Penitence
07. The Sage
08. The Serpent
10. III: Deep Earth
Dan Tompkins has never been one for just sitting around. There’s rarely been a point since 2010 when Dan has had fewer than two active projects on the go, along with a long and illustrious list of guest appearances. He may have left Skyharbor, and the promise of In Colour was frustratingly unfulfilled, but it’s clear his work ethic has not diminished. Following a relatively quiet period after re-joining TesseracT, he first broke cover earlier this year with Zeta, a synthwave project also featuring Paul ‘Chimp Spanner’ Ortiz, and now we see the return of White Moth Black Butterfly with second album Atone.
Again working with Skyharbor’s Keshav Dhar and co-vocalist Jordan Turner, they have been joined by Americans Randy Slaugh on keys and drummer Mac Christensen to make White Moth Black Butterfly a truly intercontinental project – but we should be clear, especially for those who didn’t encounter White Moth Black Butterfly’s debut One Thousand Wings, that despite their collected back catalogues, Atone is not a metal album. It’s not really a prog album either; nor is it even a rock album.
Ultimately, Atone is a pop album; it’s mature pop that is a world away the from manufactured bubblegum chart fodder usually associated with the term, but that is what it is. For some, this might be a step too far, but for those who realise that pop needn’t be a four letter word, Atone is a gentle and soothing album with moments of delicate, even crystalline, beauty.
Atone is, like its predecessor, a collection of down-tempo songs for chilling out and otherwise relaxing. Without a distorted guitar in sight, it is draped with atmospheric synths and lush, organic sounding orchestration with a particular emphasis on plaintive string arrangements. It is a warm and unchallenging listen that reaches out and embraces the listener with no harsh surprises or stings in the tail. Under normal circumstances, to suggest an album was ‘nice background music’ would be to damn it with faint praise or otherwise sell it short, but it nevertheless feels appropriate here. What’s more, Atone still has the depth to warrant more a more concerted listen rather than just letting it wash over you, however pleasant that may be from time to time.
It is probably unsurprising that the quality of the vocals on Atone is conspicuously high. Dan’s reputation as one of the most gifted and technically able singers in progressive metal was hard won, and these songs underline it, so of course his performance here is something of a masterclass. However, White Moth Black Butterfly’s secret weapon lies in Jordan’s soft-timbred, breathy and practically angelic voice. She plays a more prominent role on Atone than One Thousand Wings, and provides an excellent counterpoint to Dan, whether trading lines/verses or singing in unison, as they do most effectively on album closer “Evelyn“, along with some soaring operatic vocal melodies acting in place of a guitar solo.
Atone also sounds remarkably cohesive considering how many miles separate the collaborators. The White Moth Black Butterfly sonic recipe has developed to the point that this album feels like the natural successor to both One Thousand Wings and what little we actually heard of the In Colour project. White Moth Black Butterfly draw their influences from the likes of Massive Attack, Sigur Ros and maybe even Portishead at their least maudlin.
With the closest they come to ‘upbeat’ being second track “Rising Sun“, Atone is carefully considered, thoughtfully constructed and expertly performed. Forty minutes spent with Atone in a darkened room with a good pair of headphones is the aural equivalent of a long soak in a warm bubblebath; refreshing and relaxing. We have no idea if White Moth Black Butterfly will perform live again in any form, but should some shows happen, we expect they will be both as vanishingly rare and uncommonly beautiful as a pure white moth.