Blackwater Holylight lurched onto the local music scene last year with a promising self-titled debut album that found the band traversing several avenues of heavy music: hard rock, doom metal, shoegaze, psych, and beyond. As a performance and recording, Blackwater Holylight is expertly put together and pristinely captured. Its main fault is that some of the songs feel a bit formulaic, as if you’re listening to a collection of staples from each genre’s sonic pantry.
On their new sophomore effort, Veils of Winter, Blackwater Holylight ditches the paint-by-numbers approach in favor of finding their own way. Opening track “Seeping Secrets” features about three minutes of capable, earth-moving doom riffage before bassist Allison Faris and guitarist Laura Hopkins deliver a glistening chorus that instantly brings the song into perfect balance. Bluesy, rock ’n’ roll swagger collides with the motorik beat on “Motorcycle.” “The Protector” is heavy yet seems to float on a cloud of burbling bass, faded synths, and dead-eyed vocals. And “Death Realms” is a smeared, punchy dream that earns a comparison to My Bloody Valentine, but also doesn’t get lost in its own fog.
Across eight tracks, the band showcases an impressive sense of patience, allowing songs to unfold slowly and gain momentum without necessarily picking up the pace. Synth wrangler Sarah McKenna stands out for her ability to enhance a song’s vibe without overpowering it, though she also shines when taking a central role, as on the expansive “Lullaby,” which rumbles like an electrical storm rolling through Berlin in the early 1970s.
That song in particular symbolizes the growth of the Portland band’s music over the past year or two. On their debut, they sounded like a band grounded in well-worn sounds. On Veils of Winter, they’ve clearly cut the cord and sailed off to explore the spaces in between.