January 2014
Founded in 1996 by the brothers’ Schindl (Michael on guitar/vocals, David on drums) and Baertschiger (Thierry on guitar, Didier on bass), Geneva’s Impure Wilhelmina drew their moniker from the heroine of Bram Stoker’s classic tale and their influences from the aggressive creativity of their contemporaries in the metallic and emotional hardcore scenes exploding in both Europe and North America at the time, as well as the angsty personal songwriting exemplified by the grunge movement which had just finished running its course.

The group released two EPs which highlighted their raw potential, but finally delivered on that promise with their self-released debut Afraid, a brooding and tumultuous epic which established the band in both sound and scope, shaping relentless sludge and blistering hardcore into nine songs of stunning maturity and mantric cohesion, bleeding in saccharine melody while evoking visceral heartache and palpable frustration.  Word of mouth surrounding this release resulted in Impure Wilhelmina being quickly established among the leading lights of Swiss metallic hardcore alongside such local legends as Nostromo and Knut.

After touring France with new bassist Mathias Perrin and sonic soul-mates Ordeal (with whom they later released an excellent split CD), the band joined forces with producer Serge Morattel (Knut, Brazen, Shora) to record and release their style-defining sophomore effort, I Can’t Believe I Was Born in July.   Opening with an ominously plucked guitar over which M. Schindl intoned a disturbing invocation, the record proceeded to cover a huge range of sounds and furies, from the primal jangled pulse of The River to the claustrophobic pummel of Desperately Closed before launching into the distended, spastic metalcore rave-up of Dark Grey and the torture-tantrum scream-violence of Wine, punctuated throughout by the group’s now signature epic refrains (Get Away, The Answer) to stunning and unique effect, producing a sequence of personal and memorable songs of astounding depth, diversity and resonance.  Adorned by Aria & Konst’s beautiful lay-out, I Can’t Believe I Was Born In July is a truly singular work for both the band themselves, and for the scene at large, drawing a modest but dedicated international following who appreciated the genuine ferocity of their attack and empathic sensitivity of their unique songwriting.

2004’s L’amour, la mort, l’enfance perdue represented another giant leap as the group added strains of vast Euro-styled doom metal to the sound and introduced a more free-form, flow of consciousness compositional structure through which the now extremely cohesive four-piece could let their imaginations run wild.  Michael and Thierry’s exquisitely tangled guitar harmonies glide over Matthias Perrin’s noodling and narrative bass-lines and David’s busy but blissful flow behind the kit, building each composition up and breaking them down, before reconnecting for maximum impact on songs like the heart-wrenching opening epic January, the menacing but sophisticated prowess of The Black Flame, the epic set-piece refrain The Broken Wing of the Undying Bird and the Weezer-esque power-pop-punk of Sunburst.   

2006 represented the end of one era and beginning of the next phase for Impure Wilhelmina as founding members David and Thierry left Geneva to pursue other paths.  The stage they had a key role in setting was nonetheless being lit up all over Europe, as Impure Wilhelmina recruited Mario Togni and Alexandre Müller for their most intensive series of live performances to date, touring and performing with bands like Knut, Overmars, Gojira, Ephel Duath, Neurosis and The Ocean Collective.

Following this run, Alexandre left the group, but Togni, Schindl, Perrin and new guitarist, Christian Valleise entered the studio in 2007, the sessions resulting in Prayers and Arsons, an album which fortified Impure Wilhelmina’s unique niche, setting off sophisticated but pop-sensible bursts of dreamy emotional hardcore (Continental Breed, Travel With the Night) with even more scintillating  incisive outbursts (Poisons & Blades), consolidating the varied influences of their earlier works and culminating in a concise and punchy effort that was no less emotionally raw and intricate as it’s predecessors.

While taking an extended hiatus from recording, the group remained active – touring throughout France, Belgium and Holland, refining their established reputation for dramatic and powerful live performances.  Christian left the band at this time to be replaced by Mathieu Hardoin and the band started to compose their next album, which was recorded in late 2012 by Serge Morattel and Hardouin.  Finally seeing release in February of 2014, following additional line-up changes introducing guitarist Diogo Almeida and bassist Sebastien Dutruel, Black Honey is a unique set of 11 songs of personal character and memorable impact, always heart-pounding and often breath-taking in their hairpin twists, wide turns, potent conflicts and stunning resolutions.   

Pictures by Romain Graf | © iW 2014