BEYOND JOEY LAWRENCE: WOE’S QUIETLY, UNDRAMATICALLY
It takes balls to name your album Quietly, Undramatically. You may as well call it The Heaviest Fucking Thing You’ve Ever Heard and include shards of a Heineken bottle with the first 600 copies. In fact, that would be less controversial: Quietly, Undramatically’s title doesn’t explicitly call attention to the album’s potential heaviness, thus underplaying how potentially badass said album may be. Metal is not a game in which one underplays. It borders on ironic appreciation, which as any metalhead will tell you, is arguably the worst thing to happen to the genre. But Woe, being well-versed in black metal, don’t do irony. They also don’t underplay. So while there’s not a whole lot of quiet and certainly nothing, um, “undramatic” about Quietly, Undramatically, the band can call the record whatever the fuck they like. Sincere and relentlessly creative, Woe, like most decent black metal bands nowadays, put a new spin on an old method. But their spin, when it’s working and even when occasionally it’s not, is undoubtedly theirs.
Black metal, whether it’s liked to admit it or not, is partially rooted in punk. Mayhem’s early material, though deeply indebted to Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, and Venom, had a sloppy, violently apathetic punk edge. Same goes for Darkthrone (especially presently, of course). Woe know this. Mastermind Chris “Xos” Grigg has a harsh rasp that could stand toe-to-booted-toe with Nocturno Culto or Dead, but what’s going on under it is fascinating. The moaning minor key melodies of “The Road from Recovery” sound about as familiar as black metal gets, but there’s a heartbeat beneath them. Most black metal sounds spectral and otherworldly, perhaps buoyed by the fact that about 1/3 of its vocalists sound like banshees. Woe sound like they’re standing right in front of you, fists clenched and scowling. The difference is often subtle but noticeable. Quietly, Undramatically’s tracks regularly top six, eight, and even twelve minutes, but never once sag in the middle or toward the end. If after hearing another bloodless reiteration of Transylvanian Hunger, you, Danny Glover-style, declare that you are too old for this shit, Woe could be the band for you.
What really sets Woe apart from your average bunch of blast-and-drone fiends is the fact that they’re willing to go places their peers won’t. Hot additive of the moment — according to guys like Castevet and Deafheaven — post-hardcore and old school hardcore (dig those gang vocals at the end of “Hatred is Our Heart”) occasionally make an appearance, to positive and negative effect. The title track illustrates both sides perfectly: about a third of the way through, the band fall into a pretty decent two-step, which works its way up to an ill-advised bout with clean vocals (they nod not to Enslaved or Emperor, but to the floppy-haired kid in the back). But experimenting occasionally ends in veering too far out, and the unrestrained spirit of Quietly, Undramatically practically calls for this. They run right to the borders of what traditionalists understand black metal to be and play just outside the lines. To some, it’s typical blasphemy from the post-Norway generation; to many, it’ll be something simultaneously grim, necro, lively, and inventive. Woe’s punk spirit goes beyond bouts with d-beats and energy to spare. They don’t give a fuck about convention, just about stretching what they love to the point where it may not be what it originally was anymore. Though it’ll leave purists crying “false,” the band have managed to craft something that gives you a good sense of the possibilities STILL existent in the genre. Undramatic my ass. This is the sound of black metal to come.
(4 out of 5 horns)