When debating over the merits of the United States black metal scene (or USBM as it’s widely known), Woe have to come up at some point. Though their lineup has changed from album to album, with vocalist/guitarist/founder Chris Grigg the only constant, they have yet to release a pure dud.
They can be uneven at times, as was the case with 2013’s Withdrawal, but their first two albums, A Spell for the Death of Man and Quietly, Undramatically, keeps them in good standing.
After taking an extended break from touring and playing, Grigg has brought Woe back with another new lineup and the kind of striking intensity that hasn’t been heard from them since their debut. Hope Attrition cuts back on the melodic front that has been creeping up over the last few albums, pushing into the kind of ill-tempered black metal that put Woe in the spotlight in 2008.
Unlike back then, when it was just Grigg handling all the instruments himself, he’s got a full band to play ideas off of. The band scrapped a whole album’s worth of material before getting these seven songs together, and there’s no room made for any filler. Some may find the acoustic instrumental “A Distant Epitaph” to be unneeded, but it works as a somber coda to the vicious “No Blood Has Honor.”
Not only does Hope Attrition have a stellar lineup (due in large part to the inclusion of metal drummer extraordinaire Lev Weinstein), but the songs maintain an unsettled movement without wearing to the point of monotony. Six or seven minutes go by and none of it is perfunctory or stumbling through well-traveled riffs. Woe is a band ready to scream out through a black metal blitzkrieg.
Grigg’s anguished vocals, backed by guitarist Matt Mewton, reaffirm the band’s desolate views. A guest spot from Crypt Sermon vocalist Brooks Wilson on “The Din of the Mourning” provides a rare melodic/harsh vocal harmony to unfold, as otherwise it’s bitterness all around. This is all backed by a great production job, something Woe’s past albums have struggled with, which adds extra force to their relentlessness.
The time away from Woe did Grigg a lot of favors, as Hope Attrition and his work with Unrest (definitely recommend their Grindcore record, which sounds exactly like the name suggests) have been top-notch. Woe needed a shakeup after Withdrawal, and Hope Attrition proves to be the right move. It ranks up with A Spell For the Death of Man as one of Woe’s essential album.
(released March 17, 2017 on Vendetta Records)