Woe’s ‘Withdrawal’ is a progressive, dark breakdown that’s explosively impressive

If you’ve followed U.S. black metal band Woe since their inception, then you’ve certainly enjoyed quite a creative ride, as the Chris Grigg-led band has morphed significantly since it’s been a project. Part of that is Grigg working with a constantly rotating cast of musicians (not terribly unlike Death’s Chuck Schuldiner) and as time’s gone on, the Woe sound has grown.

The band’s third full-length record “Withdrawal” is no exception, as it is another leaps-and-bound progression beyond what was accomplished on 2010’s awesome “Quietly, Undramatically,” where the music already seemed like it had hit its peak. But that wasn’t the case at all, as with the arrival of this new record we hear a group that’s continuing to push musical boundaries and philosophies, still leaning heavily into black metal but also incorporating pieces from other extreme terrains into the mix. I imagine some people will be put off a bit by the alterations, because there are those listeners who take any change personally, but if you’ve been excited by the ride you’ve been on with Woe, then you’re ready to climb another major hill and be rushed into valleys, twists, and turns.

woe coverGrigg and his band – this time around he’s joined by guitarist Ben Brand, bassist Grzesiek Czapla (who also contributes vocals), and drummer Ruston Grosse – worked collaboratively on these songs, as Grigg isn’t solely responsible for songwriting on “Withdrawal,” and perhaps that’s why the sound has advanced and matured as much as it has from last record to this one. There are components of post-hardcore and punk rock on this record, blending nicely with the Woe’s furious black metal, and Grigg is as emotional as ever delivering his vocals, even doing some clean singing in sections of the record. I read in his interview in Decibel that he wondered if clean vocals could work in Woe and on this record, but they definitely do. They shouldn’t take away from anyone’s hopes or perceptions of this music being extremely volatile and pulverizing. Emotionally, they add even more depth.

Grigg is solely responsible for the lyrical content on the record, and you really should make a point to sit down with the words as you absorb the album. While his shrieks can sound indecipherable on the surface, you shouldn’t have any issue following with the lyric sheet because Grigg actually focuses more on enunciation than most black metal vocalists. The songs seem more personal than ever before and focus on hopelessness, despair, desperation, and inner turmoil. The way the words come out of his mouth (and Czapla’s when he’s in command) are rich with emotion and meaning, and you know you’re not just hearing these lines simply because they needed lyrics. These sound full of catharsis, suffering, and torment, almost like a personal bloodletting. You can’t help but feel personally affected by it all.

“This Is the End of the Story” starts with a flurry of guitar, which longtime Woe fans should immediately take as a sign of comfort, because it swirls and enraptures like Crigg’s lead work of old. There are wild shrieks and some progressive sections that remind a bit of Krallice (funny enough, the record was mastered by that band’s Colin Marston), and Grigg lets flow his clean singing for the first time on this track. Hardcore-style gang shouts pop in that feel a little out of place, but everything finishes in a flurry that should leave you breathless. “Carried By Waves to Remorseless Shores of the Truth” is pounding and full of anguish, as Grigg tells a story awash in bloodshed and personal horror, ending the piece howling, “We’re all fucked. There is no defense.” “All Bridges Burned” has an acoustic intro that eventually is ripped apart by thunder and passionate guitar melodies, and Grigg’s desperation shows as the song finishes with the lines, “Something’s got to change. I’m learning not to care. I’m never coming back.”

“Ceaseless Jaws,” a song written entirely by Grosse, is blinding and vicious, flying at you like a swarm of angry hornets. Yet, the song has some interesting pockets that have classical guitar flourishes and let you get a breather before everything ramps up again and heads for the cliffs. “Song of My Undoing” is one of the more interesting pieces here, opening with a blast of classic punk and hardcore, feeling loose and relentless, and letting the band go in and out of black metal pockets. It’s one of the most spontaneous sounding songs in Woe’s entire catalog. “Exhausted” is thrashy and fluid, and it sounds like a song that speaks of being mentally drained more than physical. The closing title track is surprising for how brief and to the point it is. The song is heavy and thick, with a bassline that snakes through it feeling like it’s caked with mud, and the words are practically devoid of complete sentences, with just a few words tossed here and there that certainly point to someone losing the will to carry on.

Grigg is one of metal’s more fascinating musicians, and each new Woe album has taken on a different personality because of the musicians with whom he surrounds himself and his own progression. This is a huge step ahead for the band, and excitement bursts out of every corner of this album. Woe is getting further away from raw black metal and is growing into something different, and that’s just fine. The band sounds confident and channeled, and these songs should rip the walls off every venue they play.

For more on the band, go here: http://withdrawal.woeunholy.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.candlelightrecordsusa.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=1593

For more on the label, go here: http://www.candlelightrecordsusa.com/