In an increasingly crowded field of sonic contenders, Woe has emerged as one of the most highly respected names in American black metal. This is due to the band’s talent for channeling violent rage and moral urgency into compelling and memorable compositions.
From their straightforward early demos and A Spell for the Death of Man, to the more introspective recent work like Withdrawal and Hope Attrition, Woe has always sought to engage listeners’ love of riffs along with their capacity to ponder the predicament of modern life. There are many things to admire about the band, particularly their ability to challenge entrenched superstitions and prejudices (“No Blood Has Honor” is a great example) without being sanctimonious or preachy – and always preserving the focus on writing great songs.
With the release of their new EP, A Violent Dread, Woe continues their rampage of riffs with an original track and a cover of Dawn’s “The Knell and the World.” This presented great opportunity to chat with Chris Grigg, the band’s singer, chief songwriter and guitarist. Check out the interview below, along with a stream of “A Violent Dread”:
Congrats on the new EP! Why did you guys decide to go with a quick release like this rather than save the material for the next full-length?
Thanks, Drew! Originally, this was planned for a split 12″ release with Ultha. I started writing the song immediately after we got back from our European tour with them and I was curious to see if I could write something that felt like Woe but also felt appropriate for this special release. That meant we had to go bigger, darker, and really dig into the dynamics. This was the direction we were headed with the last album, especially the last two songs written for it, “Abject in Defeat” and then “Unending Call of Woe,” which I’m not ashamed to say was also inspired by Ultha’s profound dramatic sensibilities.
As it turned out, they were ready to go much sooner than us and had some specific deadlines to hit so they decided to go the one-sided-12″ route via Vendetta first. We wound up with this song that was very special but written as a one-off. We had already discussed an EP as a way to bridge the gap between albums and stay motivated; I’ve always wanted to cover something by Dawn; we were eager to do something, anything with Vendetta again. When Stefan suggested we go the limited vinyl route, we were all in immediately.
Tell us about the lyrics to “A Violent Dread.” A lot of the language seems like a reflection on the typical reactions to high-profile mass shootings. It’s a sad and strange phenomenon that, even as violent crime and homicide rates have dropped significantly, we have these almost ritualistic incidents of violence. What does your song have to tell us about this?
“A Violent Dread” primarily makes three statements about gun violence, specifically mass shootings, in America.
There is an entire industry that manipulates the discussion about gun violence, encouraging many of us to recognize gun ownership as something akin to a religious affiliation in pursuit profit and nothing else.
As a result of this, we reduce gun violence to abstract facts that detach us from the horrific human impact – the countless, individual tragedies of every life lost, every survivor who has to live with it, everyone left behind to pick up the pieces.
When we’re detached from the raw horror and instead turn it into a fight about our own identities, the people profiting from guns maintain control and keep getting richer while the country is forced to live in the ever-present specter of mass shootings. The next one is coming, it will always keep coming, we cannot stop it. We dread this violence; the dread, itself, is violent.
Even if a listener might disagree with the first point, I think we should all agree on the second two. Until we do that, we can’t solve anything.
The artwork for the release is very striking. It seems like a metaphor for an eternal descent into darkness. Is that what you’re trying to express here?
That is a very good way of putting it. We wanted a way to present something horrific without it being aggressive. This was a guiding principle for Hope Attrition‘s album cover, too. There’s a stillness, a solemn quality to these images that I appreciate. Something terrible is happening, but we can only resign ourselves to it, because it’s bigger than any individual.
It’s pretty rad that you chose to do a Dawn cover! They’re such an underappreciated band- why did you choose “The Knell and the World”?
This was the song that hooked me. I know that so many bands want to cover a deep cut, demonstrate their knowledge of a catalog, but this, for me, is the pinnacle of this kind of black metal and the obvious choice for a cover. It informed so many qualities of Woe’s sound, you can hear it everywhere if you look out for it. It manages to be unrelenting but still melodic without feeling soft or corny. It has momentum, it has purpose. I’ve been trying to rip off Dawn for years. It’s only fitting that we finally cut out the middleman (original songs) and just went straight to the source!
Going to back to my first question, what are Woe’s recording plans for the future? Are you guys putting ideas together for the next record?
We’re kicking around some ideas. We’re all very pleased with the way the last album and this EP’s original song came out, so it’s certain that we’ll continue in this direction. I have some thoughts about how we can keep it interesting but we can all be sure that the next album will be the kick in the teeth one expects from Woe.