“I’m a big fan of misdirection,” says Chris Grigg. The 28-year-old vocalist-guitarist of black metallers Woe is talking about the title of his band’s second album, Quietly, Undramatically (2010). It’s not quiet; it’s not undramatic. Listening to it feels like being bashed in the head for 40 consecutive minutes, and then dragged into a nightmare. And then tossed into the apocalypse. And then barbecued in hellfire. Deafeningly, Histrionically would’ve been a much more fitting name. But atop Grigg’s remarkably exhaustive “THINGS TO DESTROY” list are every last one of your expectations.
Woe plays a similar prank with the first song on its new album, Withdrawal, out next week via Candlelight Records. The sonically violent ode to the dissolution of absolutely everything is called “This Is the End of the Story,” and it’s a mighty audacious way to kick things off. But beginning with the end is the only way the album could begin. “It’s all about moving on, giving up and starting over,” says Grigg. “So proclaiming, ‘This is fucking it!’ was necessary. If I wanted to be really pompous, I’d call the song ‘Raison D’être.’”
He pauses for a second to laugh at his own pretentious joke.
“It’s over,” he continues. “It’s finished. I’m moving on. I’m fucking done with it. That’s how this album starts.”
Grigg, a New Jersey native, was living in Philadelphia when Woe’s first full-length album, A Spell for the Death of Man, was released in 2008. Back then, Woe was just him, alone, in a miked room full of instruments and agony. “So bleak it is that nothing will escape,” he shrieked on that album’s opener, “Solitude.” By the time Quietly, Undramatically arrived two years later, Grigg had assembled a touring band, and Woe was a trio. On “No Solitude,” that album’s opening song, Grigg growled, “Again I see your face and now I know you’ll never leave.”
The faces of Woe have changed. The current lineup is Grigg, guitarist Ben Brand (Tombs), bassist-vocalist Grzesiek Czapla (ex-Infernal Stronghold) and drummer Shawn Eldridge (Disma). (Ruston Grosse is the drummer on Withdrawal.) “We’re still trying to get away from the idea that Woe is me,” says Grigg. “We’re almost a real band, but not quite. I wanted Withdrawal to be more of a collaborative effort, but it unfortunately didn’t work out that way.”
Time and space disrupted the plans. Grigg was offered a job soon after Quietly, Undramatically dropped, so he relocated from Philadelphia to Brooklyn in 2011. But the rest of Woe was still in Philly, so Grigg mostly wrote alone. With the exception of the music for “Ceaseless Jaws” and parts of “Exhausted,” he wrote all the music and the lyrics. The new album was mastered by Colin Marston (Krallice, Dysrhythmia), but the recording and production credits belong to Grigg.
Even though Withdrawal mostly originates in the mind of Grigg, it’s a staggeringly diverse album. It shows Woe voyaging farther away from black metal’s blackened shores than it ever has before. Breathless density and unappeasable hatred remain at the core of Woe’s being, but the band provides glimpses of new shores: the tranquil drone that shatters the terror of “Carried by Waves to Remorseless Shores of the Truth.” The melodic interlude that unexpectedly arrives in the middle of “All Bridges Burned,” as if the bridge-burner paused halfway to rejoice in his decision. The album’s final minutes, where Woe delivers the slowest and most beautiful music it has ever created.
Most intriguing is Grigg’s vocal pluralism: He growls, he grunts, he screams, he even sings. When these voices meet on “Song of My Undoing,” it produces a conversational feel, as if various perspectives on tragedy and decay are unfolding. Such diversity isn’t the norm for black metal. Times are changing, as the old guard withers away, but purists may claw their heads a few times while listening to Withdrawal.
“The rules of black metal are very rigidly imposed by fans and bands,” says Grigg. “Everyone thinks the vocalist should sound like this and not like that. These rules do a disservice to everyone, and to the music. If someone says we’re not black metal, that’s fine. I’m not interested in arguing semantics anymore. I prefer to do whatever works in the best interest of the song.”
“What I really wanted,” he continues, “was for everything to rock hard. That’s our job: to rock. Black-metal bands have gotten too far away from that, and they’ve lost focus. They can be awesome musicians and do all kinds of crazy shit, but they need to fucking rock, too. I just want people to fucking headbang.”
Sit & Spin Records hosts a listening party for Woe’s Withdrawal Sat., April 20, 2 p.m., 1346 S. Ninth St., 267-773-8345, sitandspinrecords.blogspot.com.
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