Woe Talks Politics And A Decade Of Black Metal
Four years after going through some serious black metal "Withdrawal," U.S. group Woe has returned with stunning follow-up "Hope Attrition" (reviewed here), which officially sees release today - March 17th.
Corresponding with that release, I got the opportunity to hit up band founder Chris Grigg once again so we could reminisce about a full decade of unholy black metal expression, the project going from solo to a full band, and the state of a seemingly hopeless world.
Check out our full interview below, and you can also pick up "Hope Attrition" via Bandcamp here.
xFiruath: Damn man, it's been 10 years of Woe now! Did you expect the project to come this far, and will you be doing anything to mark the decade anniversary?
Chris: Holy shit, man, tell me about it. My email history indicates that I first uploaded the Absinthe Invocation EP on April 30, 2007. I wrote the songs maybe two or three weeks before then, so we'll probably hit the 10 year mark when we're in Europe. Totally surreal. We don't have anything planned for it but maybe we should. I am extremely appreciative for your interest over the years.
xFiruath: Now that Woe has been a full band and not a solo project for awhile now, has that changed the writing process significantly, and when were the tracks for "Hope Attrition" originally penned?
Chris: It's funny how little it actually changed. I'm still writing riffs to a click, thinking carefully about tempo, trying to write riffs that sound interesting together without any drums or vocals, and then moving on. This is how I've done it forever. The process has been enhanced a little. In the interest of time, I'm now using a drum machine instead of doing it in my studio. I have a Fyrette GP/DI for writing and demoing instead of plugin-powered distortion. I realized that the closer my demos sound to a studio recording, the easier it is to anticipate how the studio recording will sound.
"Hope Attrition" was written over the course of most of last year, though some of the riffs had been sitting in my vault for years. One of the melodies in the melodic section of "The Ones We Lost" goes back to the "Quietly, Undramatically" days -- I've been trying to use it forever. I also planned on using pieces of a song written for "A Spell for the Death of Man" but it just didn't work... I don't think it ever will.
xFiruath: How did the recording process for this album go, and who did you work with? Were there any particular challenges to overcome this time around?
Chris: We did this one with Stephen DeAcutis at Sound Spa Productions in Edison, NJ. It went more smoothly than any Woe recording since the first album because I limited my responsibilities to performing and producing instead of those plus recording. Stevie is just awesome... He has a very intuitive understanding of so many different kinds of music. He really gave us the album we were hoping for.
As with the others, the biggest challenges here were probably the deadlines that I set. Early on, these were totally arbitrary, "Let's plan on recording in October," inspired by my belief that deadlines are crucial for motivation and consistency. As we got closer to finishing it, though, we confirmed Roadburn and started booking a tour, so we ended up having the very real obligation of having it out in time. There was some pressure for everyone to learn the material. I had to write quickly, revise quickly, and stay focused all the time, so I stopped going out, didn't really have much to talk about other than this obsession. I hope for the next release to have a smaller gap but a bit more time with less stress in pre-production.
xFiruath: Your last few albums were out through Candlelight but this one is through Vendetta. Can you tell me a bit about changing label homes and how you got connected with this new label?
Chris: After Candlelight was sold to Spinefarm/Universal, we and many other bands were released from our contracts. We wanted something a bit more DIY this time around and our good friends Ultha put us in touch with Stefan/Vendetta. We first planned on just doing the re-release of "A Spell for the Death of Man." It went so well, it was such a pleasant experience, and he was very enthusiastic about releasing the new one. The way he likes to do things happens to be the way we like to do things, so it is a very natural partnership.
xFiruath: It seems clear the lyrical content and overall concept have shifted a bit toward real-world issues, and while I don't want to make any incorrect assumptions, I get the impression I know what direction the rage is going towards. It's been less than two months now and for anyone watching the news, it seems like pretty much every day all hell has broken loose in a new way. How long do you see this situation continuing, and were politics a backbone of "Hope Attrition?"
Chris: Your assumptions are correct. This album does have a shift towards real-world issues, but I want to be really clear when I say that it is not intended to be a political album. It makes some statements and has some themes, some more overt than others, but Woe is and always has been a band focused on the human experience and condition. With the world and the country in their current state, there was no way to write a Woe album in 2016 without getting political at times. But this is a metal album and I am not out to proselytize. At the end of the day, it is about riffs.
The message is of anger, powerlessness, and fear in an unpredictable world. It's up to the listener to decide how deep they want to dig into the lyrics. As for how long I see this situation continuing... I really have no idea. All we can do is try to stay sane and encourage those around us to use their heads.
xFiruath: On a similar note, who put together the cover image and how does it connect to the music?
Chris: The cover is Justin Miller, same as the other albums. I hope you have seen the complete image, the front and back cover, because it has the most impact. Black smoke billows into the air, dominating the landscape, overwhelming your ability to consider much else. We only see trees far below, reminding us that there used to exist life, something else. It's not a scene of conflict or even activity; it's a scene of defeat, powerlessness, disgust, absolute domination. It is every statement and theme of the new album in one image.
xFiruath: A few years back in an interview we talked about how you went through Ken Ham's Creation Museum, which seemed like a surreal experience. Have you been to the Ark Park yet, and what are your thoughts on that attraction and it's battle over tax-payer funds?
Chris: Man, I forgot about the Ark... No, I have not yet. I didn't realize there's a battle over using tax money for it. Fucking hell, man. Nothing should surprise us anymore. I do appreciate that when you Google "ark park," you get results for a VR game related to "ARK: Survival Evolved" ahead of Ken Ham's bullshit.
I still insist that more moderates need to visit the Creation Museum so they can understand what we're up against. All of these people are probably overjoyed about Betsy DeVos becoming Secretary of Education. What a fucking world.
xFiruath: How have you felt about the feedback to the new album so far, and do you think the various reviewers have caught on to what you were trying to convey musically and lyrically?
Chris: We're still early into the release but feedback has been excellent so far and, yes, I do think that reviewers are getting it. I don't put much stock in scores but keeping tabs on what features do and don't get called out can be helpful metrics to determine whether I'm hitting my targets or if my head is just up my own ass. You can't do this for 10 years without developing a healthy amount of confidence and pride but it's very easy to go full Kanye if you don't take efforts to stay grounded. I sure as hell do not want Woe 5 to be our "Life of Pablo."
It's inevitable that we'll wind up with a few negative ones and we're fine with that. Honestly, so many negative reviews online reflect a disconnect between an album's intentions and a reviewer's interests. It's like if you reviewed a rap album as if it should have been death metal album, of course you'd be let down. ("The lack of guitars is awful, what were they thinking? 1/10.")
xFiruath: Is Woe gearing up to hit the road to support the album live, and what would you say is the biggest difference between hearing a Woe album and seeing the band on the stage?
Chris: We have a pair of album release shows in two weeks with Inter Arma where we will perform the album in its entirety, followed by just about two weeks in Europe with Ultha, where we'll be doing mostly new stuff with a very small number of old songs. A late summer date will be announced soon and after the tour, we will probably start planning some more short trips. We are eager to get back to the west coast and visit the southwest for the first time. A quick east coast run is practically guaranteed. As always, it is a game of compromises and strategy, using the time we have available as efficiently as we can.
The live Woe experience is faster, more frantic, more punk, if I had to guess. Something I learned from the last two album release cycles is that as much as I enjoy writing and recording very dynamic stuff, Woe is at our best when we are playing fast. We always started each album's tours with playing a mix of slow and fast stuff and gradually phased out the slow stuff for having the wrong vibe. I expect "Hope Attrition," live, to feel like a more aggressive version of the album.
xFiruath: What have you been jamming lately and what's coming out soon you are looking forward to?
Chris: I am looking forward to the upcoming Memoriam full-length. Bolt Thrower are one of my favorite bands and I've loved the stuff I've heard from the new band so far. Crypt Sermon are also working on a new one, which I have high hopes for. Belus (Matt from Woe, Lesley from Mortals, and wild drummer Jacques) just finished recording their new one, too.
Otherwise, I am very stuck in the past and need to listen to familiar music when I'm working, so I don't seek out new stuff much. It's a steady diet of Bolt Thrower, Cruciamentum, Armagedda, Dawn, Cradle of Filth ("Cruelty and the Beast," "Midian"), My Dying Bride, Drudkh, plus assorted BM and DM classics. I've recently become obsessed with Nahtrunar's Existenz album and I can't believe we'll get to play with them in Europe. I also go back to Bowie, Klimt 1918, RTJ, Nas, Czarface, Failure, Pusha T, Autolux, Kanye, Perturbator a lot. I'm all over the place.
xFiruath: Anything else you'd like to add?
Chris: As always, we appreciate your support so much. It's so cool that you've been reviewing our stuff for so long! "Hope Attrition" will officially be released on March 17 and we hope anyone reading this will check it the fuck out. Follow us at Facebook here for updates.
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