USBM (United States Black Metal) has been growing in prominence and skill ever since the turn of the millennium when cult act Weakling released their sole opus “Dead as Dreams” on an unsuspecting public. The unfathomable darkness and anger captured on that recording set the bar very high indeed, but thankfully the competition has made a fairly decent attempt to scale that summit, and Philadelphia based quartet Woe are one of the acts who have been making steady, grim-faced progress.
Beginning life as the sole vision of one Chris Grigg in 2007, Woe became a four-piece upon signing to Candlelight and releasing the ferocious, yet slightly un-coordinated “Quietly, Undramatically” in 2010. Whether Grigg was uncomfortable sharing his band with others is unknown, but it is evident that the intervening period has allowed the members of Woe time to grow as a unit into something more than the sum of their parts. Thus, 2013 brings us “Withdrawal”, forty-three minutes of blackened intensity, wide-ranging influences and cathartic audio blood-letting.
Kicking things off with the icy tremolo picking of ‘This is the End of the Story’, Woe pitch us into an unforgiving maelstrom that black metal aficionados will be familiar with, but the sheer pace at which the band attack their instruments will wrong-foot all but the most well versed of listeners, while the departure into mournful clean vocals and descending down-strokes of the chorus may well cause the already furrowed brows of the kvlt brigade to harden even further. Whatever your affiliation, the raging melodies and desperate screeching are more than enough to get pulses racing.
The unforgiving blasting and sombre atmosphere of ‘Carried by Waves to Remorseless Shores of the Truth’ instantly calls to mind Mayhem in their deathly prime, yet infused with a thrashing rage that serves to make proceedings sound utterly vicious and warlike. The track also sees the first appearance of one of the energetic and wild solos that flare up throughout “Withdrawal” like a deadly snake. In contrast, the sweet acoustic opening of ‘All Bridges Burned’ gives you just enough time to gather your thoughts before the pounding drums and searing riffs begin with wild abandon once more, with additional vocals from guitarist Grzesiek Czapla trading off well with Grigg.
‘Ceaseless Jaws’ combines the brute violence of Marduk with the epic slant of Borknagar, and while this may appear a tad derivative, the breathless delivery blows away these niggling doubts in a whirlwind of blastbeats. Things take a decidedly left-flavoured turn on the punishing ‘Song of My Undoing’ which burns slowly and menacingly before bringing back the kinetic thrash rhythms of before to complete the evolution while the raging cacophony of ‘Exhausted’ may well win an award for most misleading song title if it doesn’t get the nod for black metal art. Playing us out is the condensed blackened post-metal of the title track, finished off nicely with another soaring solo.
With “Withdrawal”, Grigg and his cohorts have crafted a fine and engaging album that matures with each listen. A wide range of influences is evident, and although they aren’t signposted clearly, you can feel their presence, imbuing the songwriting with different atmospheres and feelings. The production is vibrant and unforgiving, allowing the songs room to wreak havoc and brood with equal measure. For a genre that is supposed to feel diseased, black metal has never sounded so healthy.