It was bound to happen. As I’m sitting here, writing a review of the appropriately titled An Ill Wind Blowing, the second album by Swedish sludgemeisters Age of Woe, I gaze out the rear door and see picturesque blue skies, mild temperate winds, and a garden teeming with life and vibrancy, complete with a Godzilla statue wolfing down some unfortunate garden gnomes. This is all important to note because, just a full day ago, Hurricane Matthew beat the ever-loving shit out everyone in its path through Haiti, the Bahamas, and parts of Florida, including my sleepy neighborhood. From such a horrific event, you gain an appreciation for nature and its Gemini-like coin-toss of both beauty and brutality. “That’s swell,” you’re probably thinking, “but what of the stinkin’ album?!” Ill Wind harnesses that magical beauty of the eye of a chaotic storm.
And “Voices of the Unheard” wastes no time in leveling you flatter than Mario on a Goomba. Between the ominous Neurosis build of the opening riff to the near-Soilent Green change-up just seconds later, the song grabs you by your ankle, flings you against a wall, and challenges you to go toe-to-toe. Guitarists Björn Pettersson and Gonzo Incognito must have studied from the Book of HM-2 God Worship, because there’s no shortage of heft or Entombed catchiness in their riffs. Combined with the L.G. Petrov-after-a-carton-of-Marlboros vocal delivery of Sonny Stark, “Voices of the Unheard” gives little respite. Within the song’s three-minute frame, Age of Woe constructed a suiting visage for aural Armageddon.
Moments of clarity and breathing space pop up when necessary, however, to keep you from fatiguing completely. The instrumental “Kiñe Weza Kuruf Konkey” offers peace and tranquility, a nice little safe haven, before throwing you back into the maelstrom with “Heavy Clouds.” Elsewhere, “Ill Winds” contains some of the catchiest riffs and Sven Lindsten’s heaviest drumming, ensuring extra plays once the album’s barely 36-minute run time ends. Those moments of hooks and respite are necessary, because despite the album’s brief play time, it sounds and feels much longer.
Part of the problem lies with the production. Despite the heft and pummel of the distorted guitars and drums, the mix cranks everything too loud, losing clarity and color. The single-guitar riffing at :19 of “Heavy Clouds” points this problem out clear as day. Also, André Robsahm’s bass can barely be heard, let alone felt. But the biggest issue comes when the band stretches its decayed wings on longer, more ambitious songs. When condensed to four minutes or less, Age of Woe effectively slaughter all in their path with their crusty, doom-laden hardcore. But when they slow things down and batter you relentlessly for six minutes or more (such as on “Heavy Clouds” and its follow-up “Havens Burn to Cinder”), the velocity wears itself out, wearing the listener out with it.
But I enjoyed Age of Woe‘s brutal take on Swedoom. There is a bright (blight?) future ahead for these five lads if they can hone their edge just a little bit more. As it is, An Ill Wind Blowing is a convincing sophomore album. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta remove the tree branch from near my upstairs bedroom window…