Neck of the Woods – The Annex of Ire Review

Do you ever have that feeling of listening to an album and feeling that it’s somehow better than you’re giving it credit for? Or, as GardensTale put it to me, the feeling that “I’m probably just not good enough for the album”? That’s how I felt about the second full-length from Vancouver’s Neck of the Woods, until about 4pm today.  It’s actually thanks to GT that I am reviewing The Annex of Ire, following an unsuccessful (and unintentional) attempt by yours truly to steal the new Huntsmen out from under his clogs. He was magnanimous enough – when politely but firmly taking Huntsmen off my hands – to push me in the direction of an alternative pickup. Did he shove me toward some mediocre garbage or something with big enough riffs to tear my attention away from Kvaen? And what happened at 4pm today?

A more difficult question is actually how to classify Canadian five-piece Neck of the Woods: progressive tech-death-core? That just about covers it, even if it fails to actually convey quite what Neck of the Woods is. As for what happened at 4pm today, well, this album suddenly clicked for me. After worrying that I had indeed picked up something, if not garbage, at least mediocre, everything came together, like an image snapping into focus. Combining churning metalcore with elements of death metal – notably in Jeremy Gilmartin’s excellent work behind the kit – extreme progressive metal and, at times, even acoustic folksiness (sections at the back of the title track, which opens the record), The Annex of Ire is something really special.

Neck of the Woods cite influences including Between the Buried and Me and Gojira, both of which I hear loud and clear on The Annex of Ire. In fact, The Annex of Ire is the record I have always wanted from Between the Buried and Me. The stunning “Vision Loser” eases into life with a grinding guitar line before Gilmartin launches into Misery Index fury and vocalist Jeff Radomsky unleashes his muscular, throat-shredding growl. Sometimes reminiscent of Himsa’s John Pettibone, Radomsky turns himself inside out across The Annex of Ire’s 38 minutes. The almost Converge levels of aggression that erupt at the start of “Crosshairs will Shift,” stand in stark contrast to its mellow, jam-like ending. While the punishingly heavy sides of this record are never far from the surface, the progressive elements bleed through more and more as the album goes on, reminding me at times of last year’s outstanding Schammasch release. By the time Neck of the Woods reach the end of huge closer “The Tower,” the pace has slowed, drums settled back and guitarists Dave Carr and Ron Holloway are trading soaring, proggy leads left right and center.

Other than the fact it took me a few days and multiple spins to ‘get’ The Annex of Ire – for which I think I was largely to blame anyway – I have almost nothing negative to say about Neck of the Woods’ sophomore record. It’s significantly heavier than their first full-length, The Passenger, displaying more polished songwriting, which combines their various elements and influences more seamlessly. It also sounds gorgeous, with a rich drum sound and full bass perfectly complementing the lush guitars – the tone on the solo that drops just shy of three minutes into “Ambivalence” is a thing of beauty in itself. The only real criticism suggestion I have for Neck of the Woods is to perhaps introduce a bit more variety into the Radomsky’s vocals. Don’t get me wrong, what he does, he absolutely bosses, but his range does not quite match the sheer versatility that’s going on behind him.

Neck of the Woods’ vision on this record is huge. The effortless switches between death, metalcore and all out prog mean that every time I put on The Annex of Ire, I find myself wondering how I’d failed to previously notice x – currently x = the We are Impala-like section of “Strange Consolation” before the metalcore gallop that finishes the track. The mix of brutality and beauty, and the confidence with which Neck of the Woods meld the two on the Annex of Ire is a rare thing indeed. Far from mediocre garbage, GardensTale has handed me one of my favorite records of the year so far. I hope Huntsmen has treated him as well.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 160 kbps mp3
Label: Pelagic Records
Websites: | | 
Release Date: March 20th, 2020

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