When Woe’s debut A Spell for the Death of Man hit in 2008, it was a significant shot of adrenaline to an American black metal scene that was, at the time, more often known for “Cascadian” atmosphere or depressive hypnosis. By contrast, Spell was like a just-uncovered Second Wave beast that replaced any theatrical bombast with confrontational attitude, but kept the blasts and heaps of Satyriconian riffage.
The two albums that followed — 2010’s Quietly, Undramatically and 2013’s Withdrawal — expanded upon Chris Grigg’s original vision with touches of sludge, post-punk, and hardcore. Neither album, however, was able to match Spell in terms of pure satisfying ferocity (Quietly sure tried though…), leaving listeners to wonder if Grigg/Woe would ever again reach those levels.
Now, nine years after Spell, Woe returns with Hope Attrition, and Grigg returns with a mostly new band, which notably includes Krallice/Anicon/etc drummer extraordinaire Lev Weinstein. Whether these new bandmates injected new life into the band or Grigg simply wrote his best set of songs in nearly a decade is unclear, but Hope Attrition is handily the best Woe album since A Spell for the Death of Man, and maybe just the best, period.
Perhaps the best part about this renewal of sorts is that Woe didn’t have to go back and make a straight clone of Spell, nor is this a refinement of the expansions of the last two albums. Rather, the band has merely added a (slightly) new set of fresh ingredients to their blackened core. And it eases you into these fresh sounds.
Well, nothing about this album eases you into anything, but the band is kinda sneaky. Opener “Unending Call of Woe” (hey, that’s the name of the band!), for example, could easily have been written for Spell, at least on the surface. The song’s mix of brooding builds and all-out blasting certainly sounds familiar, but it’s punchier and heavier than usual, and the varied high scream/low growl vocal attack has never been better. Really, it’s hard to overstate what the vocals do for this album. Plenty of bands do this mix of aggressive and melodic black metal, but Woe forgoes the “buried banshee” style, instead choosing to put the vocals right up front, and accentuate every ounce of that real, palpable human rage.
Woe enhances this already-enhanced base using ingredients that sound somewhat borrowed from blackened scenes outside of the United States. For example, there are some pretty cutting, Quebecois tremolo lines in “The Din of the Mourning” and “Drown Us with Greatness,” but the former surrounds them with a song as dynamic as it is emotionally-driven, and the latter is a complete furor. Closer “Abject In Defeat,” meanwhile, has riffs that wouldn’t have seemed out of place on early, classic Drudkh. None of this may have been intentional, of course, as any amount of variety in a style as unrelenting as black metal is bound to get the sound association wheels turning, but the result is wicked cool either way.
There’s a moment towards the latter half of “The Ones We Lost” when a stunning collection of interwoven guitar lines provides a beautiful contrast to those desperate, very human vocals. It is not only the album’s finest moment, but the best evidence in an album full of evidence that Woe is back at the top of their game. Because scenes change and sounds change, Hope Attrition will likely not have that SHIT YES factor that A Spell for the Death of Man delivered, but it stands right up to that modern classic in terms of both professionalism and savagery. Very happily recommended, this one.