Change chafes the hides of the most disadvantaged among us the deepest, they are the first to bend in horrendous and traumatic ways as the fifth column holds fast to their wealth and power in the face of uncertainty. Change can serve the abandonment of old values, traditions, or pertain to the loathsome dispense of others (friends, sour influence) for the sake of individual prosperity but more often than not the real metamorphosis of a man is a growth by the most clever scissor-bearers among us, those who would clip away their own rough-shod edges to better serve others, to communicate more broadly, and to realize the intended ‘self’ rather than the imagination of the ego. For the artist change is no different, as much as consumer culture insists change is key to prosperity the search for identity within a small group of individuals who are precariously different is no small feat. A single driver typically holds the key to the greatest leap but a communal vision that gradually shifts toward something magnificent bears the most true and warm follower by way of those who would change, and chafe, along with them. Some were lucky enough to sing clairvoyance years ago as Calgary, Alberta grindcore band Wake morphed towards the muscularly delivered atmospheric black/death slipstream of today starting with ‘Sowing the Seeds of a Worthless Tomorrow‘ but here four years and two albums later we see the carapace of the past decay in the wind of the storm that ‘Devouring Ruin’ presents.
Undoubtedly these Canadians have a bit of a climb behind them but never an unsure step and a confidence instilled by a love for classic hardcore punk, crust, powerviolence and grindcore kept the band coughing out a compelling voice from their first seven inch (‘Surrounded by Human Filth, 2010) to the Watchmaker-esque heights of their lauded second album (‘False‘, 2013). Nothing too madly technical but always on the brink of something fresh by way of harsh noise, some more technical hardcore elements, and wildly divergent song structures… and then Wake went metal. Sure, I’ll walk that back for a second, ‘Sowing the Seeds of a Worthless Tomorrow’ was certainly still a grindcore album, a forward-thinking but classic acting deathgrind sock to the cerebellum that took the band from Insect Warfare and Keitzer comparisons to being placed in a lidless box next to Infernal Coil and Knelt Rote soon enough. The clincher in that direction was the follow-up, (‘Misery Rites‘, 2018) a very personal record that sought to deduce and exorcise the demons of the individual while advancing into avant-death metal structures, darker dissonance and slow-churning menace. It was a thought but nothing more than a step in the intended direction, meant to accumulate behind the gate before freedom were earned, pushed, and made real. In this sense ‘Devouring Ruin’ is the catalyst to loose Wake‘s burst into freedom and this can be heard from the very first few post-hardcoreish bars of opener “Dissolve and Release”, a call to drop the weight from all shoulders and act.
Daring swipes of atmospheric dissonance and divergent storms from the fields Ulcerate and Gorguts before them are a good place to start with reference to the sea-change witnessed within ‘Devouring Ruin’. Just as the lyrics set aside, cast away, fend off and stomp past madness and delirium so carves the sigil of a new being, no longer pure angst and defiant nihilism but a transcended bolt of light at a steep angle upwards, spearing through clouds and leaving horrendous vapor trails behind. Wake have pulled so heavily, so strikingly into the realm of atmospheric brutality that it takes a few spins to see their old selves draped in these new cosmically bright cloaks. They are yet the directional grindcore band at heart, though, and thankfully this works beautifully with various other extreme metal influences abound as the loosened structures are no less violent but give so much more room for variation and ‘breath’. This ends up being a true crossover moment for the present day, where the outmoded singular notion of grindcore finds its melting point rests within slower tempo and eased passages. “This Abyssal Plain” proves that it can be done, that this is all going to be viable, but it is “Mouth of Abolition” that suggests this pressure upon the boundaries of deathgrind can forge something memorable, thanks in no small part to some guest guitar work from Ben Hutcherson (Khemmis, Glacial Tomb) and Nightfell-esque opening moments. This is just a matter of breaking through the norms of Wake, though, and as we venture into the second half of ‘Devouring Ruin’ the transformation towards true atmospheric and bizarre modern black/death metal begins to sound more and more complete.
From the sound of it you’d think I was describing Misery Index putting out an Uada album and well, though that isn’t far off in the midst of songs like the 10+ minute “Torchbearer” it does become important to note that the amount of detail in that song is equal to half of some of their early full-lengths. No doubt a shift in ethos, a collective goal towards a complex and above-par modern avant-blackened deathgrind record is on display throughout the full listen but the philosophy behind this change is perhaps even more interesting. What is bare and naked here is the acceptance of past failures and defeats, of hard lessons learned and the intent to set fire to them with this next leap forward. Wake have seen and felt change within themselves and a metamorphosis in sound now appears all the more natural and perhaps a long time coming. The obvious criticism of this path isn’t that they’ve been too ambitious, they can handle it and do a fine job of living up to high standards although the ‘crossover moment’ being fulfilled is the payoff moreso than the songwriting, which is beautifully complex and often breathtaking in its movements but there is the sense Wake are capable of coming even more full range and not leaving behind their old grind god status entirely. The DNA is still there, especially in the violence of Side A, though an inch more extremity in one or two key transitional moments might’ve lit a fire hot enough to keep the mind from wandering at all. This comes from the perspective of someone who listens to black and death metal on a daily basis, though, so a grain of salt for how jaded my ears are versus loyal grinders who steer in another direction.
On a preliminary or casual spin the impact of ‘Devouring Ruin’ is remarkable in terms of stylistic shift, grand new capabilities and the realization of shifting sands that’ve been apparent since Arjun Gill joined on second guitar around 2015. This could be seen in at least two ways, first that change is a necessary thing for the artists involved and that this album was a very, very important step towards self-actualization among musicians not intending to be set in their ways. On the other hand one could just as easily suggest their old style had only predictable avenues to reach for and this shift represents a shift towards taste in modern underground black/death metal on the later waves of somewhat persistent atmospheric trends. Despite the darkness within the pieces of it, there is no cynical pandering presence felt within ‘Devouring Ruin’ and instead a band reaching a level of quality and insight beyond expectations — Not merely sounding like a band who takes influence from black/death metal but actually going for it in a wildly appropriate way. Beyond that it is just a miracle any band can shoot for such change and not land in a puddle of their own anxietous vomit as a result, no doubt the production values via Dave Otero (Flatline Studios) are expectedly world class and help the realization of the along beautifully.
Having sat with this fifth Wake record (along with the four others) for nearly two months and letting it wear a deep groove in my mind with its textural sprays and anxietous carnage no doubt I am inspired by it, although it remains an ‘in the moment’ album with only 4-5 guitar standout ‘hooks’ that consistently pull me back in for repeat listens. Is there depth enough if you go looking for it? I would say so thus far, though instant gratification will come first from style and then delayed reactions from composition and detail have the chance to snake in a few last strikes. A very high recommendation and an essential release for folks who wanted ‘Misery Rites’ to push ten times harder into the new territory it suggested.
Very high recommendation. 4.25/5.0
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