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Woe - Withdrawal

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Artist: Woe

Album: Withdrawal

Label: Candlelight

Review date: Apr. 23, 2013

Woe - "Song of My Undoing"

One of the pleasures and curiosities of being a “metal” fan is bird-watching the way some of the genre’s sub-sections occasionally get embraced by otherwise unsuspecting sources. Somewhat predictable was the rush to heap praises on certain varieties of doom following a big New York Times spread. Less so has been the vaguely touristic interest in black metal in recent years, only in part driven by the compelling innovations on this controversial genre being produced in the United States. In other words: it’s less about Agalloch and Nachtmystium and more a very posthumous fascination with Norwegian church-burning combined with Columbia University crossovers Liturgy, for better or worse.

Lost in all the hullaballoo is how forceful, inventive, and compelling black metal can be away from its textural longueurs or ideological squabbles. To that end, Woe’s 2010 Quietly, Undramatically was a vivid, visceral reminder. Withdrawal, the young U.S. quartet’s third full-length album, underscores this even more effectively. A concise document (seven songs and south of 45 minutes), Withdrawal showcases leader Chris Grigg’s vision for retaining black metal’s aggressive roots in a sonically expansive context that, while not entirely thumbing its nose at idiomatic orthodoxy, looks far beyond the sub-genre’s frequent provincialism. The abject emotionalism of opener “This is the End of the Story” recalls, in its technicality and the urgency of its vocals, nothing less than the late Chuck Schuldiner’s Death. Unafraid to change tempos, to incorporate actual singing, and to reckon seriously with dynamism, it’s an impressive start to Woe’s most serious statement yet.

And it sets the tone for a dense, far-ranging sequence of well-wrought tunes (the directness and urgency of which testifies to the 18 months they’ve spent workshopping them live). For example, “Carried by Waves to Remorseless Shores of the Truth” may gallop and unfurl its thrashy flailing with the best of them, but the tight changes and unapologetic kernels of lyricism distinguish Woe from the legions of tired aspirants to mid-1990s Darkthrone. Hear this in the sizzling lyrical lines that follow the majestic middle bits, and then in the fantastic use of restated themes in different tempo settings (with modest, meaningful reharmonizations, too). “All Bridges Burned” dials things back a bit, with more hesitation and even a reflectiveness that to some extent favorably recalls Nachtmystium’s Black Meddle experimentations.

The pummeling “Ceaseless Jaws” (written by drummer Ruston Grosse) may be the most conventionally black metal thing here on some level; but within its churn there is plenty of harmonic motion (somewhat concealed by the ceaseless blast beats), and there’s a clean arpeggio breakdown that could pass for an Opeth aside. Not bad, but it’s quickly forgotten after the trio of songs that closes things out. The fierce, eructating stomp of “Song of My Undoing” moves from outright bludgeoning into what you might call metalgaze (with more clean vocals from Grigg); “Exhausted” dallies briefly in outright thrash; and the closing title track very nearly swings.

Woe never lingers long on any of the tunes that make up Withdrawal, and it’s that consistent clarity that makes them one of the finest bands in U.S.B.M.

By Jason Bivins

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