American muscle is a term generally reserved for talking about cars. Granted, we do spend a lot of time talking about American muscles when it comes to U.S. athletes competing to earn the title of world champions despite never playing teams outside of North America or even for sports that aren’t played in any other country. Well, the sole member of New York’s Woe, Chris Grigg, is here to establish that American muscle can apply to black metal too.
The production is different, so what else has changed this time around? For the first time since Woe’s debut, Grigg has returned the project to a solo effort as he performed all instruments and wrote all the material. While he did take on the bulk of responsibilities for the album, past conspirators in the forms of the previous full-time band members did return to the fold for certain roles. Lev Weinstein provided additional drums on three tracks and was also involved in the production of that instrument. Former bass player Grzesiek Czapla also returned as the primary producer alongside Grigg for the recording of all other instruments. The final shift of substance is the inclusion of synths as a regular instrument for the first time on a Woe album.
While the inclusion of synths may make some listeners a little nervous, it’s important to note they are utilized sparingly and rarely take the spotlight. Album opener “Fresh Chaos Greets The Dawn” exemplifies this well. The synths lightly patter in as the intro to the track and then get a mostly standalone opportunity to provide the outro as well, but at a key moment when the song slightly peels back the speed on the drums, the synths are subtly layered behind vibrant riffs to create a greater sense of drama. With the exception of a refined 80’s horror synth interlude in the closing track, that more subdued use of synths is their primary presence throughout the album. The opening track also firmly establishes the fiery approach to guitars previously mentioned. The second guitar fires off increasingly higher tremolo runs as they bubble toward exploding over incredibly tight rhythms. While the riffs are primarily all variations of tremolo throughout the song, they are constantly morphing and weaving among one another to create a sense of storytelling and development. Even the drums slow down to allow the cymbal work to shine, and the overall song hits more of a midtempo, the tremolo picking is so relentless that Grigg certainly developed carpal tunnel by the end of the recording.
“The Justice of Gnashing Teeth” opens with rollicking toms and closes with a wobbly riff fighting against jackhammer drums that give it a potent finish. It also features one of the rare guitar leads that appears on the album. “Distant Epitaphs” has a quick rhythmic chug of a riff that flits in and out of the song in a manner that feels like its trying to rapidly smack the other guitar several times in a row as to challenge it to a duel. This one might be bearing its teeth the most in an album chock full of aggressive and seemingly violent riffs. “Shores of Extinction” stands out among the other five songs as it diverges the most from the established formula. It has a grooving mid-tempo riff that’s downright infectious and would feel right at home on Satyricon’s Now, Diabolical. It also proffers a greater sense of atmosphere by firing off sustained guitar notes that wail and wane in the background.
After “Shores of Extinction,” Legacies of Frailty closes with “Far Beyond the Fracture of the Sky,” which feels like Woe planting a flag in the ground and making a statement of rage. The song is pure fire razing everything to the ground. It’s also one of two songs where Grigg flexes his vocal muscles by trying a different technique. He leverages more of a gobliny high vocal at times here and uses a ranting style like A Forest of Stars on “Scavenger Prophets.” Just how pissed off is Grigg on this album? The final lyrics on the closing track are:
Every parent dreams of peace
And driven to lie
To those wondrous gazes
Somehow sentenced to life
Even this song’s closing moment seems to temper a sense of defeat against one last gasp of righteous indignation. The cymbal work is crashing around, providing a sense of collapse before one final exhausted run is unleashed in the form of a flamethrower of a riff, melting the song down to ashes.
This is one pissed-off dose of USBM that lays waste to the ears in just under 50 minutes. It would seem American muscle isn’t for the faint of heart in more than just fast cars after all.