Woe // Withdrawal
Rating: 3.5/5.0 — Black metal from Philly?? Makes sense actually…
Label: Candlelight Records
Websites: withdrawal.woeunholy.com | myspace.com/woeunholy
Release Dates: EU: 2013.04.22 | NA: 04.23.2013
Founded in New Jersey but based for most of their existence in Philadelphia, Pennsylania, black metal band Woe have been peddling their particular brand of utter bleakness since 2007. Originally a solo project created by current vocalist and guitarist Chris Grigg, by the time their second record Quietly, Undramatically was released in 2010 Woe had established a full lineup — which has still undergone many shifts in the past few years. The version of Woe that has come together to create Withdrawal is very different from the incarnation that produced either of their last two records, and it shows.
Woe has come a long way from being a solo project, as Withdrawal is the product of a collective writing process. Grigg has stated that, rather than being the sole mastermind of the band (though he did produced the album and is still the band’s guiding force), he is now a part of a much more egalitarian effort. Drummer Ruston Grosse wrote “Ceaseless Jaws” in it’s entirety, and guitarist Ben Brand wrote an early version of “Exhausted” that the band collectively reworked. This writing strategy has served to make Withdrawal a more varied, eclectic album. While Quietly, Undramatically was defined by a unity of vision, Withdrawal is more chaotic, relying more on juxtaposition and creative transitions. This very different technique is executed extremely well, making Withdrawal a very different record structurally but definitely not a weaker one.
There is also more variation on the vocal performance. Rather than just performing backing vocals, bassist Grzesiek Czapla takes a much more active role, singing entire choruses and verses. His performance is very different from Grigg’s dry, wraith-like screaming, producing a more throaty, full sound that compliments the musical complexity of Withdrawal extremely well.
While Withdrawal retains the nihilism and despair that has always defined Woe‘s music and vision, there are moments of lightness and warmth here that were absent on prior efforts. The seven-and-a-half minute monument to old-school black metal bleakness, all hoarfrost and hypothermia, that is “All Bridges Burned” begins with a plaintive, almost buttery acoustic passage. Czapla’s vocals also contribute to these unexpected moments of warmth and meltwater.
These few delicate openings are few and far between, however, for the overall character of Withdrawal is of ferocious, calamitous energy. “Ceaseless Jaws” drives forward with a thrashing, ravenous hunger, tearing itself apart in the process. “Exhausted” is not a slow slog, but a frantic, heart-pounding and almost imbalanced expulsion of energy. The album closer and title track begins with a deep, urgent bass line that drives the song through the grooving, slower moments with a kind of frantic nervousness. From start to finish, Withdrawal is never at peace with itself, constant itching, twisting, railing, unable to settle or find resolution.
In all their albums, Woe have focussed on exploring the outer reaches of suffering, coming up with new and eloquent ways to express the precise tone and texture of despair. Whereas their previous efforts have come to some kind of weary resignation regarding this misery, however, Withdrawal refuses to settle or accept, and fights against the pain with every inch of itself. The wailing, defiant result is certainly worth diving in to.