Woe – Withdrawal
Release: LP, 2013 (Candlelight)
Genre: Black Metal
Sonic Brethren: Nachtmystium, Anicon, Absu
My anticipation for this album has been high and growing for a while now. Woe’s first full-length, A Spell for the Death of Man, is my favorite USBM album of all time and I’ve closely followed the group ever since discovering it a few years ago. Quietly, Undramatically, which saw the Chris Grigg project turn into a full-fledged band, had them venture into new territories without coming to a complete realization of what their sound should be – a typical symptom of the sophomore slump. Woe ditched the rhythm section after that effort and has spent the last three years honing their craft; playing a few short tours while Chris focused on his work as a producer and tinkering with an acoustic side-project.
Withdrawal kicks off in classic Woe style with a tremolo stab to the neck as extreme energy and frantic speed are highlighted by the focus on ever-changing guitar melodies. The band’s fury has clearly gone nowhere. The production is punchy and a shining example of separating each instrument into its own perfect frequency range, there’s no bleeding of the lower and higher ends which is all too common in metal. “Carried by Waves to Remorseless Shores of the Truth” is the highlight of the album, varying between raw USBM, thrash, and punk sensibilities as all three stringsmen pass around an infectious lead for an addicting seven minutes of chaos. A few songs later, “Song of My Undoing” starts to slow things down a bit. It’s the most laid-back of the seven tracks and it meanders through cross-genre pollination like we heard earlier, but changes its mind and picks up the pace halfway through; losing its intrigue in the process.
As the album progresses it becomes more and more clear that the Philly quartet hasn’t strayed completely off course from what they played around with on the previous record. The occasional clean vocals are now here to stay, and an uncharacteristic group chant even finds its way into the mix; questionably. Apart from the few solos, malicious melodies and vocal changes, there’s not a whole lot that sets Woe apart from their own straightforward black metal sound. Most verses on the album sound interchangeable, doing nothing but following the same tremolo and beat blasting marathons that appear on the tracks before and after; blurring the 43 minutes into a ride where each landmark looks oddly familiar. Withdrawal is an album that suffers from failing to live up to (my own, possibly too high) expectations. But pedestals aside, a third full-length should find a group at the top of their game, instead of attempting more of the same with a dash of half-hearted experimentation. A band of such pedigree and talent should have found their identity by now.
Withdrawal is available from Candlelight Records on April 23.
Final thoughts: While brilliant moments abound, Woe dial back the experimentation presented on Quietly, Undramatically but fail to re-live the unique aggression of their debut.