Woe - _A Spell for the Death of Man_
(Stronghold Records, 2008)
by: Alexandra Erickson (7 out of 10)
I can't put my finger on it, but I like it. Depressive (in a non-velvet-wearing nor stringed classical instrument toting way), stirring, far enough removed from the European scene to be inherently a breath of fresh air, even by burgeoning USBM standards. Philadelphia plays host to Woe and with the latest release, _A Spell for the Death of Man_, Philly is proving to be fertile ground for misanthropy on a grand scale. Unrelenting from the moment the baneful instrumental intro ceases, completely through to the waning notes of the last track, the album is substantial by every account. Maybe the girth of the album stems from the fact it's a solo project that can maintain a steadfast grasp on its artistic integrity and original vision, or maybe it's simply because Xos knew and was unwavering in where he was taking this one. The reasoning is of no consequence, really, because the final product is quite lovely.

The album is likened to Wolves in the Throne Room, and the only place that any parallel jumps out, by my count, is the aforementioned despondent instrumental intro that consumes the first few minutes of "Solitude". The track then breaks into what can only be quantified as Enslaved consumed by hate and with drum lessons from Nifelheim's Peter Stjärnvind. Melodic guitars waning and wailing, rolling snare drumming, capped off with agonized high vocals that are predominant through the entire album. "Alone With Our Failures" follows through on an almost Watain note at times with a bouncing black-thrash ambiance, falling into a dizzying guitar chasm at points. Xos' vocals stand out tremendously in their emotional intensity, straining for nearly the full four minutes of the song.

"Longing Is All That Will Remain" is carried aloft by exceptionally melodic and melancholic guitars, rising and falling through the length of the track. Stopped midstream by a pseudo-breakdown and what is almost a tipping of the hat to American post-hardcore bands (donned in goat's blood and bullet belts, mind you), it jumps unapologetically right back to the blackened visceral center of the album. The breakdown works well, I promise. "Condemned as Prey" opens with the tortured vocals and melodies that find their way to the surface through the murk of the blackened abyss that are prevalent throughout the whole album. The track follows through on a similar note, straying back into the bouncing thrash realm with the snares and such periodically, but is kept down in the depths with relative ease by the absolutely depressive melodies. "I See No Civilization" and "Wake in Mourning" both follow in similar suit, not to any discredit. "Memento Mori" closes the effort out on an excruciatingly melodic tone. With slow, chugging guitars, the tempo slowed down by light years, and vocals thrown through heavy distortion and echoes, the track secures and closes the album on a note not dissimilar to Forgotten Woods or even Paysage d'Hiver.

Oregon and Washington have been usurped in their reign over USBM and it's in a good way. If Xos and Woe are a sign of things to come, we should all be focusing on the Eastern US seaboard with wide-eyed enthusiasm. _A Spell for the Death of Man_ is a strong endeavor and is brilliant as his first full-length. Running the gambit from punishing black metal cacophonies to crushing thrash attacks to the softest melodic lulls, it's a hearty album from start to finish and will find its way into heavy rotation if you give it a whirl. I'm anxious to see what Stronghold can help this Yankee deliver in the future.

Contact: http://www.woeunholy.com

(article published 24/10/2008)

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