The black and gray cover of Wes Willenbring’s new album, predisposes us for an encounter with an artist whose uncompromising vision may become either overbearing or revealing of greater truths that can only be deciphered through music. Not any music can do that of course, as not everyone is willing to push the boundary of sound, or use the experience of living in a post-industrial world as a source of inspiration to make something truly original, but most importantly esoteric.
Willenbring with Weapons Reference Manual makes a convincing argument for the fact that the transition into a post-industrial world hasn’t transformed the essentials of the human condition, as the grayness that remains at the heart of human civilization is still the main factor that guides our every move. Experimenting with tones, drones, mechanic background noise, distorted drums and guitar, he builds dark atmospheres which embrace the listeners and present them with a sense of danger. His music evolves like a being born in the darkness, moving like dark clouds, preparing us for a storm that may or may not come, but will surely affect our vision of the world (whether it will be for the better or the worse, remains to be seen and depends on our perspective the same way the Mayan prophesies of an impending doom or the dawn of an era of enlightenment, are interpreted depending on what each one of us wants to believe).
Like a soundtrack to William Blake’s trip from normality to a fictional city named Machine at the end of the world in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, Willenbring’s music tells us the story of a long train trip with no end in sight, the monotonous sound of the train’s engines becoming a part of life, in a way that we couldn’t have imagined before. While all that sounds depressing, it surely isn’t. The correct word is detached, as Willenbring has abandoned the emotional touches of his previous works, and seems to observe the story he’s writing from a distance.
His work is meticulous, serious, at times hypnotic, but also capable of keeping the listener wide awake. This isn’t an album about the world’s beauty, but about recklessness, people disappearing every day, and dreams that will never be realized. It’s a wake-up call and meditation music for those willing to dig deeper into the most uncomfortable thoughts of our collective consciousness. (John Kontos)