`Ruthless`, the debut album from Waldemar has been five years coming to fruition. The meaning of the word ruthless is brutal or merciless which seems to express the sacrifices singer-songwriter Gabe Larson, frontman for Waldemar based in Eau Claire, Wisconsin endured to see its creation. Larson spent every moment outside of his job sanding floors, painstakingly transforming a weathered, century-old horse barn on his property into a professional recording studio with his brother and bandmate Nick Larson. The album was achieved with the help of bandmates Nick Larson and Colin Carey (drums), Josh Garcia (guitar), John Roemhild (bass) and Jordan Coffland (keys). 

We open with `Limbo` which is pretty anthemic with vocals that seem to reflect a sense of somebody beginning to fight back from a state of adversity. A kind of chink of light in all the previous gloom. Title track `Ruthless` has shimmering guitar chord riffs and a pounding drumbeat and is fairly introspective quite ballad like with lyrics that may refer to overcoming heartbreak and moving on.

`Summer Rain` is a further reflective offering which was written and recorded during a spell of ten overcast August days and is a song that encapsulated Gabe`s own struggles with depression and the aftermath of his previous band falling apart. A deeply intensive listen which has harmonica tinges that gave it for me, dare I say it a feel of classic Springsteen track. There`s a strange synth like under base to `Patience` another deep-rooted mediative composition which is broken midway with a glimmering guitar solo.

We have a similar number with `Prophet` but it is layered over synth swathes that are sparkling then distorted at times throughout. There`s a sense of unease on `Ultimatum` which displays an overwhelming passion.

Although `Torrid` has some intricate guitar chord riffs it follows a similar pattern to what has gone before in its potency. A strummed guitar and raw vocal carry us into `Longing`, a tale of yearning for what has passed. A brief snippet of harmonica is the signal for the band to join in a fill out the number with what sounds like a pedal steel guitar in the mix.

`Union` seems to be a recognition of self-absorption or preoccupation with oneself and taking a partner for granted set against a backdrop of piano and pedal steel initially before a lonesome sounding synth joins and guides us along. We have in `Waldermar` a stripped back emotional ode, partly a tribute or eulogy of sorts to Larson’s paternal grandfather, Waldemar, who was a Minnesota farmer during the Great Depression and who throughout his life, quietly suffered from his own depression. Indeed, the singer sort of took the band`s name as a tribute to him.

The album closes out on `Trust` which runs at over ten minutes and begins with a spoken word oration seemingly about trust before the singer closes out with a piano led thoughtful assessment of a similar nature.

The album is deeply personal and you have to admire Gabe Larson who allows us into almost the depths of his soul at times. It`s an emotionally powerful listen which i`m sure was cathartic for this talented singer-songwriter and musician but veers towards the melancholic a lot of the time and I felt a tad overlong running at nearly seventy minutes. That said i`m sure it`s a release that I’ll return to.

This artist has recently welcomed the birth of his daughter and I `m sure with her arrival the next album may well have a more heartening and uplifting slant.,  

Rating 8 / 10

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