About a year ago, signs of life began to stir once again on the Facebook page of Philadelphia black metal band Woe. At first, they only promised shows—another chance at seeing a band who’s delicate blend of crust and black metal formed a uniquely progressive style all their own. This was exciting news to the wider Philadelphia area extreme music scene as the band was a long time favorite of many, sort of a source of pride. However, soon the murmurings of shows for the summer went silent, and fans were left wondering if it had all just been the hopeful ramblings of one member.
That was until, of course, those murmurings of reunion shows turned to the announcement that the band had been demoing songs. Then all Woe fans changed their tune entirely, excited for the return of one black metal’s most promising acts. Others, however, held a bit of doubt. After all, it would be hard to follow up such a powerful, well rounded album as Withdrawal, even harder still after a four year break. It is into this somewhat tense, pressured environment Woe decided to make their return, falling under a close scrutiny of widespread critical acclaim and fan praise, and it is in this environment Woe now presents Hope Attrition, their latest offering.
First and foremost if any other band had comeback after a 4 year hiatus with a new album and named the first track after themselves, I’d be slightly pissed. Woe, however, gets a pass on this as “Unending Call of Woe” lives up to its name, offering a beautiful opening that truly marks the band’s return. It opens with a classic tremolo picked, black metal riff before launching into a slightly crustier leaning section. In most ways it is a classic Woe track, drawing directly from the second wave of black metal but marking a progression in the style that’s marketably different than peers in bands such as Cobalt. So despite it being a seriously cheesy way to name a song, let alone open your comeback album, Woe gets a pass on this one just for the sheer intensity they bring to the table in the track.
The track also marks a slightly interesting turn performance wise for vocalist (and original sole member of the band) Chris Grig. On the self-homage, his impressive riffing is not only showcased (as it has consistently been), but a newly expanded vocal range as well. For the most part Grig spent the earlier parts of his career in a slightly higher range, truly embracing the black metal shriek. Here, however, Grig explores the low end of his vocal range and to great effect. The tracks often come off as a bit more menacing, something that seemed oddly out of reach for Woe, but works excellently for them. In many ways it provides a nice contrast to the intricately melodies that are weaved through out their tracks. However where this new focus on the low range really pays off is when it contrasts with the clean vocals the band employs. Admittedly, the cleans are a bit more sparse throughout the record than they perhaps should be considering just how good they are, but often land a bit more of an impact due to the overall darker tone of Hope Attrition.
This segues nicely into a discussion of the tone of this record. As mentioned above, the record does seem to take a marketably darker feel than past Woe releases. In part this seems to be largely because the subject matter on the record seems much more personal, dealing with themes of loss (“A Distant Mourning”, “The Ones We Lost”) and the emotions that come with it. For Woe, subject matter that relates so closely to the band is a slight twist. In the past they have channeled their emotion in a much different way, seeming to take aim with a broad stroke type misanthropy. With Hope Attrition, however, they turn inwards instead of outwards, examining the personal demons they struggle with versus the demons of society they had previously explored. It’s only really a slight change for the band, but one that has a dramatic impact in the overall feel for the album.
Perhaps the best example of all of this is the fourth track of the album, “The Din of The Mourning”. Immediately, the track embraces the overall feel of the album, beautifully personifying it through an atmosphere that is not only melodic and epic, but deeply personal as well. Despite this, however, the band still approaches the track with a savage edge that enthralls the listener. Finally, just as it is about to peak in its power, it rests, giving way to a “gentle” (as gentle as Woe can be) section with soaring clean vocals. It’s a nice little mix up and shows off Woe’s diverse songwriting abilities in a somewhat neat package.
Woe may have been gone for 4 years, but with Hope Attrition, the band aims to erase any doubt that this equates to them being any less than stellar. The album plays on many of their old tropes and tricks, powering through dense, melodic lead riffs with an underlying crust punk feel to it all. However it is also noticeably different as the band has seemingly sidestepped their past overtly political and misanthropic themes in favor of a more personal album. It’s an odd switch to be certain, but one that pays off in large dividends. Not to say that their past and new styles clash. Instead they beautifully compliment to each other, playing off the emotional tension present in both to create a truly ground shaking and powerful album.
Hope Attrition is available now via Vendetta Records and can be purchased here.