Woe to Those Who Overlook the Punishing Black Metal of ‘Hope Attrition’
After nearly a four-year hiatus, Philadelphia / Brooklyn-based black metal band Woe are back with Hope Attrition, their brand new LP on a brand new label (Vendetta). 2013’s Withdrawal served up a batch of songs that blended traditional black metal, thrash and a dash of hardcore for good measure; fast melodic guitar riffing with high-pitched screams alternated with clean vocals, similar to what can be found on later Emperor records such as Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk or Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire and Demise. There are also moments of emotional introspection and subtlety on Withdrawal (see: “All Bridges Burned”). Hope Attrition offers a more aggressive aspect of Woe’s multifaceted approach. There's more brutality, more caveman knuckle-dragging than on any of their earlier releases. Standout tracks are “No Blood Has Honor,” “The Din of the Mourning” and album closer “Abject in Defeat.”
Woe founder Chris Grigg offers his insights on the creation of their new record.
The last Woe record, Withdrawal, came out in 2013. What was going on during the interim?
Life things, mostly. I had family issues that needed attention, and I made a career change that demanded absolute focus. Woe had taken a lot of time and energy. It was time for a break to recharge. It wasn't until things settled down that I felt motivated to create music again.
Woe began as a solo project, then slowly transformed into a full band. Who is in the current lineup?
Our lineup is now Grzesiek Czapla on bass; Matt Mewton, guitar; Lev Weinstein, drums. Grzesiek has been with the band since the beginning. He didn't play on [2008's] A Spell for the Death of Man, but he started playing live with us early on. Lev joined up shortly after Withdrawal was released and did our last round of touring. Matt is a good friend who we've known for years; he's in a band called Belus, and we have another project together that should be unveiled soon.
Is the songwriting collaborative?
Not so much on this one. I wrote every song and demoed everything ahead of time. Grzesiek acted as a ruthless co-producer, and together, we picked apart each version of each song, molding it in the right direction. We learned all of the songs before going into the studio and made some subtle changes, with track five [“The Ones We Lost”] seeing some improvements to a few riffs that vastly improved the song. Matt also wrote the solo that opens track two [“No Blood Has Honor”], and I think that is crucial to that song.
The new record, Hope Attrition, is on a new label, Vendetta. How did that relationship develop?
I was introduced to Stefan [Klose] of Vendetta through Ralph Schmidt, formerly of Planks and now Ultha. Ralph had nothing but good things to say about him, and after our relationship with Candlelight ended, he introduced us. It started by agreeing to work together on the re-release of A Spell for the Death of Man, which did not have a big European presence. I was impressed and grateful for Stefan's dedication to the bands he worked with. It felt like a real partnership; we did not have to cede control of our music or compromise on things that felt important. After that went well, we saw no reason not to work with him on the new album.
Vendetta is based in Europe. Do you see this posing any issues with U.S. distribution?
That is still to be determined. One of the biggest complaints about Withdrawal was that people had trouble finding it in stores, and that was when we were on Candlelight, who were supposed to have excellent distribution. That experience was one of many reasons I didn’t pursue a similarly positioned label for Hope Attrition.
Vendetta distribute through Midhaven, who I believe also handle a number of North American labels who I respect intensely, so that’s a start. Anecdotally, friends on the label and Stefan assure me that their U.S. sales are strong. Between digital and online shopping, distribution is honestly one of my lowest priorities. I cannot imagine that anyone who wants the new album will be unable to find it.
These days, ownership of material is a hot topic. Does Woe own the digital rights?
Yes, and this was one of the most attractive parts of working with Vendetta. He gave me the option of doing digital myself, and I opted to go DIY. It’s things like this that give me the impression that Stefan cares about the bands he works with, and their music. He has our blessing to sell the album on the label’s Bandcamp, but we will sell it directly, too, and handle the listing on digital stores.
We retained all rights to Hope Attrition. By comparison, both [2010's] Quietly, Undramatically and Withdrawal belong to Spinefarm / Universal now that they bought Candlelight. Excluding the demo and split, that is half of our discography, years of work, gone. We have to buy copies at their rate. I don’t even know who I would contact to do that, or if it is possible. It sucks, man. I’m never going to allow that to happen again. Vendetta understands and respects that, and that matters to us.
The new record has a more aggressive vibe to it. It’s a subtle variation from the more traditional black metal-oriented material. What inspired the change?
There were a few pieces that contribute to it. In the time away from playing and performing, I took a break from listening to extreme metal. When I returned, I had little to no interest in anything that wasn't aggressive death metal or unrelenting black metal; anything less intense was probably presenting feelings that other styles of music could do better. Woe has always been an aggressive band, but with some songs and albums pushing more intense than others. We decided to dig into the elements of our existing approach that would get this across most effectively. I made a commitment to myself to not compromise on this, and the rest of the band shared that vision. So, really, I wrote for myself as a fan, and this was the natural result.
Next, the vocal shift; for the first time, Hope Attrition uses low vocals as the primary voice for the record. As I wrote, I found that the shrieking high vocals did not have the percussive, sonic impact that the material demanded. The lyrics did not feel furious enough in delivery. There is something more physically fulfilling about performing lows, especially with this material, so that was the only way to proceed. The result certainly feels more aggressive, even over riffs that would be equally at home on any of the other albums.
Finally, the production; for maximum impact, we needed a heavy, aggressive sound. Stephen DeAcutis has a long history of working on world-class death metal albums. Nobody mixes like him. We were bound to come out with an aggressive-sounding album with him at the helm.
There is also a lyrical shift. What is different about the subject matter of Hope Attrition?
My perspective shifted dramatically over the past few years. Hope Attrition is the first Woe album written from outside the influence of intense depression. Prior to this, each album was written from within. For what feels like the first time, I'm operating with a mostly clear head and high energy.
Of course, that does not mean we are all roses. The band, the scene, the country, the world — we've seen so much death, so much misery. I don't think I know anyone who hasn't lost a family member or very close friend in the past few years. Death is everywhere you look. Nobody seems to have any control over their world and everyone is fighting to make sense of it. These themes — control, power, loss, fear — have been with Woe since the beginning, but Hope Attrition is us at our most furious. I don't know how else anyone could feel about the world right now.
What is the plan to support the new record?
We'll be doing our first shows in more than three years in March with Inter Arma — one in Brooklyn and another in Philadelphia. In April, we have nearly two weeks in Europe with Ultha, which will take us to Roadburn, Doom Over Leipzig, Vendetta Fest and many other exciting events. A lot of it will hinge on what opportunities come up, combined with what our schedules allow — Lev is actually in every single band in New York, Grzesiek has demanding obligations to a certain Texan horde, Belus has a new album coming out, and work demands might make it difficult — but we are all committed to helping this album get out there. We are viciously proud of it.