It feels like forever since I had that run of great albums in my review queue. From March through May, I got my hands on a half-dozen albums that stand a good chance of appearing on year-end lists. Since then, aside from September’s great Cult of Luna album, it’s been an unremarkable run of mediocrity. Nothing exemplifies this streak more than the “stoner rock” label. I’ve reviewed eight stoner rock albums this year, and only one of them (My Diligence, released way back in January) managed to break out of the middle of the pack. And yet, to quote the great David Coverdale, here I go again. This time there’s a twist, though: Woodhawk are local boys—more local than Edmonton’s Black Mastiff, in fact. These guys drink beer not far from my house. Let’s see if I like their sophomore album as much as they enjoy New Level Brewing.
Woodhawk’s debut, 2017’s Beyond the Sun, slipped by all of us, but thanks to some friends who I can reliably state are stoner rock aficionados, that album ended up in my collection. If I had reviewed it here, it would have received a healthy 3.5, as it was loaded with catchy, energetic, desert rock songs, and I simply love Turner Midzain’s voice. For Violent Nature, the band reconvened in Vancouver to record once again with Jesse Gander (Anciients), a relationship that clearly pays rich dividends. This time around, though, we see the band honing their skills in a manner that might not find favor amongst those dead-set on Woodhawk sticking purely with stoner rock. Tasty riffs still abound, but the songs on Violent Nature are much more accessible than expected.
“Snake in the Grass” rolls in with what will most likely be a great live set intro before settling into a galloping riff, interrupted only by one of many catchy choruses to come. Elsewhere, “Dry Blood” and the title track feature stop-start riffs which serve to highlight the band’s tight chemistry: Kevin Nelson (drums) and Mike Badmington (bass) are in lockstep all the way through Violent Nature. The riff on “As a Friend” reminds me of Monster Magnet, while for some reason the back half of closing track “Our Greatest Weakness” has me thinking of old Rod Stewart, back when he released killer rock albums.1 The song is quickly rising up the ranks of my SotY playlist.
Musically, Woodhawk rock, with all three fellas nailing it, but Turner Midzain shines the brightest, both on guitar and vocals. He’s got a great sense of melody, with solos that are arranged just right for the songs and swell rhythm chops, and his voice can fill an arena; it’s a big-time rock voice. Lyrically, Violent Nature focuses on mental health rather than sci-fi, as Beyond the Sun did. The lyrics will resonate with many people. On the album’s change-up song, “Clear the Air,” Midzain sings “It’s getting hard for you to see what’s really weighing down on me. I’m struggling to speak, and it’s turning into screams.” “As a friend, never again, I can’t watch you choose to die,” is one of the lines from the intervention-centered “As a Friend,” and he closes things out by proclaiming “our greatest weakness is love, for now.” The emotional heft of the lyrics only adds to the album’s weight.
Violent Nature may not have the same youthful, unabated exuberance of Beyond the Sun, but the tunes here are so well done that we should accept that trade-off. This is the sound of a band far more mature than they should be two albums in, polished without being neutered, and loaded with catchy songs you’ll want to play over and over. They might not really be stoner rock any more, but the songwriting is so good that I don’t care. Woodhawk may have slipped by my review radar two years ago, but I wasn’t going to let that happen again. I’m proud of these fellow Calgarians for dropping what’s most likely the city’s album of the year.