Despite his mastery of the German language (huge assumption here), Waxen is actually a solo project of an America: multi-instrumentalist Toby Knapp from Sheridan, Wyoming. Given the name “Toby Knapp” and the location of Wyoming you might be expecting a heavy dose of the honky tonk, two step, ‘Merica style music. If you are then the joke is squarely on you, idiot. Waxen is a brand of raw, dirty black metal combining pretty classic black metal elements with atmospheric elements and Joe Satriani-style shred leads.
Toby Knapp has been around the block. Currently active in Where Evil Follows (speed metal) and the recently reactivated Forced Religion (thrash) as well as his other solo project, Toby Knapp (more technical/progressive) and once part of the now defunct Onward (thrash). Waxen has been in existence since 2004 although he hasn’t consistently put out material as Waxen until 2014. He also released a split entitled Unborn Spirits Immortal with Markus Johannson (of Them, 4Arm and Sylencer) that is simply two virtuosos having a shred off. So Knapp clearly knows that it’s his talent that is his main attribute when producing an album. With that level of talent and precision, everything, and I mean everything, every damn note, has to have been done on purpose.
Waxen is heavily billed as a “shred black metal” band (think of bands like Draugar and Urheimat). The second track, “In Harm’s Way” opens in full shred mode. The guitars launch straight into epic mode laden with chorus pedals and harmonic effects. Underneath the sultry leads is a completely fuzzed out guitar, we’re talking overdriven cigarette amplifier levels of gain, and a rhythm section that bounces between blast beats and more death-leaning double bass rolls. Enter the vocals which are shrill and, much like the rhythms guitar, excessively distorted. Unlike the melodic guitar lines that lead to the monikker “shred” the vocals are grating; bordering on tiresome. Then there’s the issue of song length. At over eight minutes, “In Harm’s Way” is meant as the epic anthem of Weihung Auf Satan but the track could easily be half as long and equally as effective. The main culprit here being the nearly indistuingishable underlying tracks and vocals.
Suffering a similar fate, the title track seems to wear on even at under five minutes of run length. Again, the completely distorted, treble heavy production combined with the equally overly distorted rhythm guitar and vocals creates a confusing, directionless track only tied together when Knapp begins shredding around the three-minute mark. The issue is only compounded by the lack of distinct direction of the rhythm section. The drums mimic the guitar line nearly beat for beat and are only further muddied when the vocals are at their climactic peak.
The first track is by far the most compelling on the album. “Of Black Rain and Ecstasy” introduces the core concepts of the album discussed above. It’s similarly treble heavy, fuzzed out rhythm sections over which Knapp pours his hot shredded lava of soloing. In fact, it’s a wonder why the album includes vocals at all when his guitar playing is so expertly diverse and melodic. Clearly, Knapp has the ear for lead lines that far exceed his vocal ability.
Waxen is, as advertised, shocking and dirty. And that’s clearly on purpose. Weihung Auf Satan immediately grabs and demands attention. But, upon further spins, the album tends to become rote. Toby Knapp is a marvelous talent at guitar. Perhaps the inclusion of other songwriters would benefit him as its time for him to get away from the shred label and move into the business of composition. Overall, the thin, treble-heavy production and unrelenting fuzz of the rhythm guitars detract from the uniqueness of his near constant power metal soloing. And that’s the highlight. Knapp is clearly an extraordinary talent with vision to create something wholly unique yet rooted in foundation.