Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Woe - Withdrawal - 3

Written by Craig Hayes.

Design by Justin Miller

Withdrawal, in many of its forms, can be extremely painful. It can scorch your bones from the inside out, thread razor-wire through every corpuscle, and leave you with an unquenchable thirst for mental and physical solace while you ache with pernicious desires and doubts. It's fitting, then, that you'll find an abundance of those very same elements and themes explored on Withdrawal, the third full-length from black metal band Woe.

Withdrawal was produced by vocalist, guitarist, and band founder Chris Grigg, and mastered by Colin Marston. It revisits the pitiless ferocity found on Woe's 2008 debut full-length, A Spell for the Death of Man, mining the darkness of that album for the aforementioned bone-scorching temper. However, Withdrawal also explores the sonic depths and emotional intensity of the band’s sophomore release, 2010's Quietly, Undramatically, similarly binding its maniacal black metal to complex arrangements, all slathered in a variety of ill-tempered influences.

Photo by Casey Carlton.

Woe began as a one-man band and became a fuller unit around Quietly, Undramatically. Withdrawal is the band’s most collaborative effort thus far, with drummer Ruston Grosse and guitarist Ben Brand contributing songs, and bassist Grzesiek Czapla expanding his vocal role significantly. With more songwriting voices being added, Woe's missives are on the new album are stocked with differing shades--albeit all of them still dwelling firmly in the shadows. While there's an unquestionable recognition of black metal's lineage on Withdrawal, creative honesty is the key element here, as it is for similarly explorative acts in the US black metal scene such as Krallice, Ash Borer, Nachtmystium or Deafheaven. Certainly, black metal serves the aesthetic foundation for Withdrawal, but Woe aren't bound to any stringent dictates about what is or isn't allowed.

Photo by Casey Carlton.

Still, adventurism aside, Withdrawal does retain plenty of raw, no-frills second wave rancor, and suffers no shortage of dissonance or malice. "This is the End of the Story" is an utterly pitiless screed with tortured vocals from the abyss, and "Carried by Waves to Remorseless Shores of the Truth" features a vitriolic, and hugely effective, staggering rhythmic flow, winding around a ceaselessly rumbling bass. Grigg and Brand provide deluges of frantic tremolo riffing, with melodies riding atop, or buried within. Czapla's bass work powers through all with a sesmic Motörhead punch, and Grosse's drumming provides for non-stop, dexterous hostility. As far as black metal's hallmarks go, you'll find all boxes ticked here, and the production comes with that crucial corrosive bite. However, though Withdrawal features plentiful venom, there's abundant subtle poison here too.

Photo by Casey Carlton.

"Ceaseless Jaws" halts mid-song for a wonderfully crooked and isolated guitar line to bleed through, before hurling itself back into the pitch-black chasms. "Song of My Undoing" sees clean and noxious vocals combine with tumbling glaciers of poignant doom--all kicked off with filthy crust-punk-influenced assault. The songwriting throughout Withdrawal sees shifts of mood and tone drawn from murky depths, and the result is a cavernous album that plummets into dark emotional depths. The gut-wrenching explorations therein, and the underlying tides of doom, punk and heaving post-rock, are swamped in surges of leveling black metal. Still, for all Withdrawal's outright ruination and brutality, Woe's message is received loud and clear. The album brings both power and pathos to a raft of themes that haunt us all, with murderous hailstorms of riffing recalling the frustrations we all feel when trying to move forward in life.

In all, Withdrawal offers a means to purge your exasperations and discontentments, and it does so with dramatic and dynamic confidence. In wrestling with those issues, Woe exhibits a great deal of artistic freedom, making the album ever more personal and resonant in the process. Play it loud, play it long. Kill the demons that plague you, or summon them into being. How you use Withdrawal is up to you. What matters most is that it’s just the kind of album we need to accompany or confront our grief, doubt, pain and--most importantly of all--our very darkest fears.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Tagged with 2013, black metal, Candlelight Records USA, Craig Hayes, Woe
  1. It's cool to see other people struck by some of the same things I was, e.g., that little break in "Ceaseless Jaws."

    1. Some themes are recurring in all three reviews, that's inevitable I guess. But together the reviews covered a lot of ground.