Wake – Devouring Ruin Review

Finding catharsis in the midst of chaos is the name of the game these days. It’s why every tenth article in your COVID co-opted news avalanche feed is about a bunny who adopted stray kittens. It’s why last Saturday I watched a live stream of a drag queen disinfecting every surface in her kitchen while performing Queen’s “I Want to Break Free.” As the world around us is brought to its knees by the weight of uncertainty, we instinctively seek out and appreciate these small pressure release valves. Bands who ply their trade in chaotic styles should pay attention. Chaos plus time equals background noise, but there are two options to keep an audience engaged. The first is brevity. This is why hardcore punk albums are traditionally 25-30 mins long. The second is the thoughtful placement of sonic perches to rest upon. Moments that slow things down, switch to a different sound or texture, or even offer overt beauty in the raging din. Brevity is easy. Thoughtfulness isn’t, and yet Calgary, Alberta’s grindcore magicians Wake make it look like second nature on their fourth album Devouring Ruin.

It should be noted that Wake’s first couple “full lengths” followed the usual brevity template—each was around 20 minutes—and hewed closely to straight-forward grindcore. Things began to change with 2018’s Misery Rites, as doom and other influences crept into the mix and the album topped 30 minutes. Devouring Ruin proves that evolution was no fluke. There are moments of industrial doom (“This Abyssal Plain”), emotive black metal (“Torchbearer”) and even Khemmis-like epic twin guitar heroics (“Mouth of Abolition”) lurking in the dense death grind. Devouring Ruin stretches across a full 46 minutes, and if you’re thinking that’s way too long for an album in this genre, rest assured almost none of it is wasted on filler.

Wake’s ability to compose fluid transitions between genre influences is equally successful on two scales, individual songs and the album as a whole. This is first and foremost a death grind record, so ragers like “Kana Tevoro (Kania! Kania!)” and “Monuments of Impiety” should please anyone looking for quaking intensity. That said, even the most chaotic cuts are deceptively melodic at points, and this attention to detail means that when the thundering spasms at the beginning of songs like “This Abyssal Plain” and “Mouth of Abolition” give way to elegiac guitar lines, the emotional impact is greater because you’ve been subconsciously primed for these moments to erupt from the bedrock. Normally, the inclusion of two one-minute ambient interludes on an album would draw my ire, but “Elegy” and “Paean” serve their intended function, which is to give the listener a soft reset just before major album set pieces, such as the massive “Torchbearer.”

Epic in scale, weight and emotional impact, “Torchbearer” cycles through four distinct styles over ten and a half minutes, but is so tightly composed that it congeals into a singular example of extreme metal’s potential when genre isn’t held as pure. There’s laborious, caustic doom segments that call to mind Primitive Man, a passage of straight up chugging death metal that grows slowly more spastic until a false ending rolls into almost d-beat drums ahead of a true grind freakout, and holding every piece together like a golden thread is one of the best chorus/tremolo riff combos I’ve heard so far this year. Running just under these choruses is the kind of subtle melody that shows Wake could probably write a hell of a black metal record if they wanted to, which shouldn’t be surprising given their deft handling of other genre touchstones.

Every sub-genre, no matter how stuffed with uninspired also-rans, always has a few transcendent acts that vitalize their chosen style and legitimizes it in the larger zeitgeist of extreme metal. These are the bands that are easy to love even when you may not be a fan of the style in general. With Devouring Ruin, Wake show that they have joined Full of Hell as standard bearers for what grind can do in the hands of creatively restless and shrewdly skilled musicians. This will be an AOTY contender.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Translation Loss Records
Websites: wakegrind.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/wakeyyc
Releases Worldwide: March 27th, 2020

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