Quick, everybody lean in and bow your heads so I can give y’all Lice. Not the tasty crawly kind, mind you, but rather the avant garde kind with Niklas Kvarforth (Shining) behind the mic. Love him or hate him, the dude has over two decades of quality songwriting under his bullet belt,1 and Woe Betide You is another top-notch… notch on that belt. Featuring members of Teitanblood as well, there’s a marked deviation from the pitch black misery of Shining; lyrically, darkness still reigns, but Lice take us on a much more colorful and less sonically obvious path to that hateful place. That said, shut your mouths and take off your hats, yo,2 the infestation beggineth now.
Woe Betide You is a pretty sweet album. It’s not necessarily fighting for a spot on my current list of AotY candidates, yet Woe Betide You is one of the most dynamic albums I’ve reviewed to date, right up there with Great Leap Skyward‘s Map of Broken Dreams. Contrasting genres are haphazardly yet harmoniously interwoven into a seamless state ov coexistence beyond the kvlt, so if you’re coming to Lice‘s shindig you’d best come correct: this one isn’t just for the trve, but for fans ov music itself. Atmosphere is everything here, and if a moment doesn’t need to be metal than it won’t be. There are riffs, of course—the front-half of “Roadkill” immediately leaps to mind — yet Lice aren’t interested in getting you to bang your head so much as they are in forcing you to peer into the darkest moodscapes inside that head.
Lice display a penchant for genre-jumping comparable to contemporary avant gardeans Corpo Menti or Igorrr, albeit significantly less spastically so. We’re talking elements of NONE atmoblack, Pink Floyd lounge prog, flashes of Silversun Pickups alt-rock, some deathy bits and even traces ov Angry Metal Beach Bum surf-rock, among other styles, all amalgamated into something curiously cohesive and effective. Guitarist Kirill Krowli takes great pains to make such tonal transitions feel organic, carefully constructing kinetic compositions rife with shape-shifting opportunity. Transformations typically take place at the peak of any particular passage, retaining the scale of what’s come before and harnessing the swelling energy of the apex moment to catalyze a drastic reincarnation. Whether he’s employing bluesy melodies and haunting Agallochian leads (“Roadkill”), savage black metal and Coheed and Cambriesque riffs (“…And so the Ceaseless Murmur of the World Came to and End”) or any of the other myriad stylistic integrations found here, Mr. Krowli’s deft divergence is very much the heart and soul of this album, and this thing is very much alive and well.
Sounding barely alive and far from well—deliberately and effectively—frontman Kvarforth is, of course, also partly to blame/begrudgingly thank for Woe Betide You‘s success. His performance behind the mic is as multifaceted as the instrumental attack, to similar success. One second he’s all lifeless and Celtic Frosty, the next he might be employing black ‘n’ roll screams and pentameters, maybe sobbing or even belting out something akin to Cookie Monster drunkenly lamenting a grievously broken heart (“Pride Eraser”). Kvarforth appears as necessary and only ever does what’s needed within his particular moments of any given song, his presence fluctuating but his performance consistently on point. Woe Betide You is hardly an instrumental album, yet the lion’s share of the work is handled by Krowli and drummer J (Teitanblood). Between the smooth transitions between tracks and the shifting nature of the songs themselves, every element of the album exists to support its surroundings and propel it all onward, the end result being a darkly beautiful, perfectly choreographed dance that defies categorization.
With a 48-minute runtime and zero repetitiveness to speak ov, the album also lends itself quite easily to the start-to-finish play through experience that its music demands. Whatever this is, it works. Blackened post-Pink Floyd is the closest thing to a label I can attribute to this strange creation of Lice‘s, and while Woe Betide You doesn’t blow my mind, it also doesn’t sound like anything else and it does still impress the hell right out of me. For any misgivings one might hold against the frontman, it’d be a disservice to listeners and Lice alike to hold Kvarforth against the band and allow an otherwise excellent album to pass them by uninvestigated.
- “He really is the height of cretinous. It’s a shame that some of his music is rather good.” – El Cuervo, January 2018. If there’s anything the Gungan and I agree on, it is this unfortunately spot-on assessment of Niklas Kvarforth. Personally, he makes me sick; being no stranger to depression and suicidal thoughts, I have no love or respect for the guy and his “let them eat dirt” ethos, but he’s not exactly Hitler and his music—including this stuff—is usually (and frustratingly) quality material. Say what you will about the artist, I’m just here to talk about the art, yo. Save the commentfire for the n00bs. (Telling them to separate the artist from the art is going to cause commentfire, bro. You just got the flamewar you were trying to avoid. Hard self pwn going on here. – AMG) ↩
- True metalheads don’t wear hats. I am judging you. – AMG ↩