Warforged – The Grove | Sundial Review

It took an unprecedented length of time for me to appreciate Warforged’s debut I: Voice back in 2019. In fact, I was so moved by the record once it finally clicked that I awarded it an enthusiastic 1.5-point upgrade. Naturally, that puts a lot of pressure on the follow-up, entitled The Grove | Sundial. Upon learning that Adrian Perez—who was in charge of lead vocals, keyboards, sampling, piano, and lyrics on I: Voice—separated from the project, I balked. A large portion of what made Warforged work so well owes its existence to Adrian’s contributions, so I was skeptical that any future material would retain the same eerie atmosphere or compelling storytelling. I am, therefore, relieved to report that I had little to worry about with The Grove | Sundial.

While I: Voice was a sprawling, overgrown thicket of stinging barbs, The Grove | Sundial is a lithe and hostile beast lurking in the forest’s shadow. Gone are the extended breaks and jazz-tinted jams, replaced with vicious beatdowns and only the briefest acoustic respites. The vocals, now handled by I Killed Everyone’s Tim O’Brien, span the gamut between brutal death growls, deathcore roars, post-grunge cleans, and blackened hardcore screeches. Thankfully, guitarists Jace Kiburz and Max Damske preserve the trademark Warforged swagger in their unhinged riffing, which effectively create unsettling soundscapes and perilous structures beneath which Jason Nitts ably builds his monumental percussive foundation. Alex Damske gains greater presence on the low end, strumming his bass with wild abandon in contrast with his more minimalist performance on I: Voice. Put together, the team created a tight new record that falls a good distance from the arboreal density of I: Voice without abandoning Warforged’s core root system.

Warforged’s newest release is another testament to albums that must be experienced in full to appreciate in kind. For those who require a taste before the main course, however, look no further than album highlights “Hymn of Broken Teeth” and “Bliss Joined to the Bane.” A dichotomy between unchecked brutality and trained tension blooms in this pairing. “Hymn” represents the monstrous, malformed mutation reminiscent of the heaviest material offered by bands like AngelMaker, while maintaining the compositional theatricality of Native Construct; and “Bliss” conjures the same horrific environs that bands like Artificial Brain are famous for, but uses industrialized, throbbing oscillations of deep, soft tones and rusted textures to manifest them. That being said, The Grove | Sundial does not reward cherry-picking its best moments from the greater whole. Once again, Warforged demands full commitment from their audience to glean the greatest value from their work. Each song boasts a distinct character, and represents a purposeful chapter in this psychologically thrilling machination. Some chapters are indeed stronger than others, but the majority portion of their impeccably composed details—the car door signal sample in “No Land Man,” the sneering synths of “House of Resentment,” the strobe effect at the end of “Self Destruct Seminar,” the haunting tremolos backing up “The Place That Breaks Your Bones”—come together in a beautiful mosaic of horrifying extremity that only a most finely oiled machine can craft.

Yet even this finely oiled machine has a few new kinks to work out. Firstly, I would like to again credit Tim O’Brien, a versatile vocalist capable of wielding a variety of vocal styles. However, there’s no denying his performance eschews the nightmarish insidiousness that Adrian provided, which I maintain was a defining attribute of Warforged’s one-of-a-kind appeal. Considering this record’s more direct nature, that shift in vocal character was a logical choice. Even so, those haunting blackened scratches from the past would’ve greatly elevated some of this new material today. In the songwriting department, “Sheridan Road” and “Burning Days,” lack the same charisma of other tracks. “Sheridan Road” smashes two diverging personalities together to each’s detriment, the clean passages contrasting starkly with the tech-death-heavy second act and disrupting the album’s momentum early on. “Burning Days,” on the other hand, just isn’t doing enough to pull its weight or at least make its mark, and qualifies as the only track on The Grove | Sundial that I deem “generic.”

After all is said and done, the truth remains that Warforged is one of the more creative, unique acts in the extreme metal scene, and easily the best band on The Artisan Era’s current roster. Granted a little more time spent writing material for Tim on the mic, I don’t see anything stopping them from delivering another classic like I: Voice in the years to come. For now, rest easy knowing that The Grove | Sundial is a very cool album that, in true Warforged fashion, grows more interesting with time.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: The Artisan Era
Websites: facebook.com/warforgedband | warforged.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: September 9th, 2022

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