Written by Kep
Woe – Legacies of Frailty
> Atmospheric black metal
> New York, US
> Releasing September 29
> Vendetta Records
It’s been over four years since A Violent Dread, the EP that marked the last time we heard from Woe, and over six since Hope Attrition, the project’s last full-length. A lot can change in that amount of time; for example, a project can return to its roots, eschewing a multi-member lineup for the one-man design of its earliest releases. And Woe has done exactly that, with Chris Grigg resuming his position as the band’s sole member on this album after over a decade as a four-piece (though the fabulous Lev Weinstein of Krallice still contributes additional drums on a few tracks). This was, of course, Grigg’s project from the start, and while he always served as Woe’s songwriter, it’s refreshing to see his hand so fully in control of this new effort.
The results are, to put it neatly, spectacular and devastating. Legacies of Frailty bears the smoldering air of burning aggression in every moment, even as it carries a focused and poignant maturity in the underpinning of its songwriting. Additionally, while each previous Woe release was marked by varying degrees of emotional rawness and certain abrasive qualities in the production, this album feels cleaner and warmer, and all the more powerful for it. I sense more world-weariness in its aching chord structures and more pangs of sadness within its many long melodic lines. Legacies of Frailty is the work of a much different Grigg than the one who made 2008’s A Spell for the Death of Man, or even than the one who made Hope Attrition six years ago—this album embraces a palpable sense of mortality, of the inevitability of destruction, and yet I still hear a tired hope in it.
Practically speaking, the slightly more polished production and increased prominence of bits of tasteful synth play a large role in heightening that overarching feel of fatigued humanity. It’s evident from the first moments of opener and lead single “Fresh Chaos Greets the Dawn” that Legacies of Frailty will be a new beast, as the first sounds heard are that brooding synth—an instrument Woe has only used once before, sparingly on the A Violent Dread EP—which bursts into angry torrents of blasts and tremolos, tempered with a strange somberness. The opener is a powerhouse track, the sort that won’t leave your mind once it’s over, full of melodies that speak to an exhausted earth filled with exhausted creatures. Grigg’s emphatic, chesty mid-range roars bring a violent edge to truly gutting lyrics: “Fresh chaos greets the dawn / You’ll never see from where it comes / A defeated sun groans to its post / To weep away an endless day”.
The album’s six tracks are each equally impressive examples of Grigg’s ever more powerful songwriting ability. “Scavenger Prophets” is vicious and dripping with venom, featuring prominent use of shifting meters and moments of Ashenspire-esque soapbox vocals. The enormous “The Justice of Gnashing Teeth”, the longest song on the record at ten minutes, opens with a repeated cascading arpeggio that disappears into a rushing stream of dark tremolo, and the first chunk of lyrics is accompanied by a motif that uses an anguished melody jutting ever upwards. The following refrain then uses a tuneful third riff that marries the two, descending in intervals before twisting up again. The song is just massive—all of this happens before the halfway mark—and even settles into a broad and somber synth-backed passage marked by open chords and rhythmic expansion.
“Distant Epitaphs”, the album’s most straightforward track, is refreshingly direct, and the outro’s melancholy synth melody is a damn delight. It’s an excellent lead-in to penultimate number “Shores of Extinction”, a mid-tempo song with laid-back chord fluctuations and prominent plaintive melody, answered with bittersweet dots of synth atop the texture, and later a dangerous dark turn that feels more ominous than anything else on the record. But closing track “Beyond the Fracture of the Sky” is the pièce de résistance, a culmination of everything that precedes it musically, atmospherically, and lyrically. First there’s its magnificent sweeping riff that feels like the full fury of every emotion at once, juxtaposed against passages of powerful anger in low racing syncopation. The synth once again looms large in intimidating contemplation through the song’s middle, before a final regret- and rage-driven push to the end, where the experience climaxes with wild catharsis in the heartrending cries of the album’s final melody.
Grigg’s thematic throughline on Legacies of Frailty is mankind’s continual failures: failure to take care of the earth, failure to strive for peace, failure to fight its own violent and selfish nature. And without a doubt, this is the best lyrical content of the year. Grigg has always been an excellent lyricist, but Legacies of Frailty is definitively on a whole new emotional plane. There are countless sections I could share as evidence, but I’ll quote just a single verse, the final words on the album, that cut me to the heart: “Every parent dreams of peace / And driven to lie / To those wondrous gazes / Somehow sentenced to life”.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Legacies of Frailty is a resounding triumph for Chris Grigg’s Woe, an emotional and deeply impactful tour de force that deftly melds frustration, rage, and pangs of sorrow into a staggeringly moving whole. It’s a powerful new effort from a project that had already proven its quality again and again, and I fully expect to find it on a number of AOTY lists come December.