Originally written by Jordan Campbell
A consistent thread has been running throughout black metal culture since its inception: A perpetual crisis of identity. Not artistically, of course, but it terms of presentation. Somehow, somewhere, it was decided that the art form was too grotesque, too depraved for human representation. We’ve seen a a litany of pseudonyms accompany gallons of blood n’ corpsepaint over the past few decades, thus triggering an intentional disconnect.
But has anyone ever really stopped and asked why? Well, not really, because black metal accoutrement is universally regarded as pretty fuckin’ cool. (When applied by the old guard, at least.) Upon legit analysis, though, the whole phenomenon is a bit nonsensical. Think about it. If these creative juices are triggered by the human experience, why go to such great lengths to strip away the human element and replace it with something else? Even the metaphysical poseurs who espouse some type of “religious” or “spiritual” connection to Satan (or whomever) reached that point based on their experiences as humans. So why the great efforts at placing a barrier between artist and listener? Why the costumes? The paint? The cloak of anonymity? Why take something so personal and primal and twist it into theater?
The outright rejection of such rampant pretentiousness contributes to Woe‘s status as the most relevant black metal band in America. Sure, the championship-caliber riffage helps, too. But Woe sounds like black metal made by humans. Fascinatingly, Quietly, Undramatically captures the vitriol of the everyman: the anguish of our volatility, our vicious strains against the futility of existence. And it does so with honesty. Mastermind Chris Grigg is no longer known as “Xos.” There’s no self-imposed barrier, no impervious facade. And despite crafting a stunning debut (A Spell For The Death of Man) on his own, he’s opened the gates of Woe to welcome a slew of collaborators. This is now a fully-fleshed band. Instead of locking doors and brewing mystique, Grigg is kicking ’em down.
A Spell For The Death of Man was all venom, all the time; Grigg’s primal drumming led a charge of scythe-like riffing and absolutely scathing vocals, and the result was earth-shattering–at least for the few that heard the damn thing. This sophomore effort still retains a healthy amount of piss and sulfur, but Quietly is a more measured, mature release. (The uninitiated shouldn’t take the album title literally; Woe does not deal in mope-a-dope depression. This isn’t suicidal, it’s homicidal.) The arrival of up-and-coming drummer Evan Madden has broadened the band’s scope–though Grigg’s relentless Emperor beats from A Spell aren’t soon forgotten–and the result is nothing short of stellar.
The ebb and flow herein is, pardon the pun, pretty goddamn dramatic. The mid-album gearshift that slides the ultra-brief, filthpunk-ball-of-hell “Without Logic” into the twelve-minute, showstopping “Full Circle” is violently breathtaking. This whip-smart contrast–a relentless, spiked-bat assault paired with the most nuanced epic since “A Diamond For Disease”–serves as testament to Woe‘s growth into a true force. While album opens in expected fashion, with the skin-flaying gnasher “The Road From Recovery” leading the charge, the band’s multi-faceted personality unfolds as the album tells its story.
Early on, the title track runs the gamut–a nutshelled showcase of everything this crew can bring to the table. Unexpectedly, some subtle clean vocals–not unlike the ones that haunt Winterfylleth‘s latest–bring the track to a climax. Then, it descends into the maelstrom of melodic riffcraft that is now the band’s trademark. Woe‘s sound is distinctly American. And not in the typical USBM sense, where angular, burnt-beige droning seems to dominate the landscape. This is a combination of crumbling urban grit and standalone blackness. Their Scandinavian influence hasn’t been entirely abandoned (Woe is still the only band on the planet that can carry a legit Nightside Eclipse influence without approaching a Blood Stained Dusk eyeroll), but the sound herein is undeniably Woe and Woe alone.
Woe‘s unabashed punk rock bleedthrough is not only electrifying, it’s vital. There’s an undying, palpable realness to this album that serves as a colossal Fuck You to everything, everyone, and black metal as a whole. Fuck your forests, fuck your communes, fuck your heritage, fuck your demigods, fuck your stage blood, fuck your costumes…and, well, fuck anyone that thinks Liturgy is a good band. This is nihilism, but empoweringly so. Quietly, Undramatically is a chronicle of humanity. This is life. This is heavy metal. And Woe are are kicking the living shit out of it, one spiraling riff at a time.