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Originally published at http://www.teethofthedivine.com by Erik Thomas
If a complete stranger or non metal head were to come up to me today and ask me “What is Black Metal”? I’d give him this record. Sure there’s all sorts of classic options from Emperor through Marduk, Immortal, Leviathan and such, but as of right now A Spell for the Death of Man, for me, seems to be an album that captures the very essence and spirit of black metal in all its forms. And it’s a one man project.
Yup-this terrific album is the brain child of Xos (or Chris Grigg) and while you’d typically expect the usual depressive lo fi scrawl from a US (Philadelphia) one man black metal project, Woe turns out to be one of the very best and well done, pure black metal records I’ve heard in quite some time, capturing the misanthropy, tortured melody, scarred atmospherics and introspective, craggy nihilism of the genre in 8 perfectly done songs.
The guitar tone is clean but raw and the bass is barely there as a steady back ground, but the guitars carry the show with a perfectly balanced mix of slice and dice riffs, mid paced control, carefully placed, seething underlying melodies and just the right amount of ambiance and atmospherics. Grigg’s vocals are a pretty standard screech but are effective in glossing the music with the expected vocal fury that becomes black metal.
From the dreamy throes that delicately start 9 minute opener “Solitude” to fuzzed out, droning feedback of closer “Memento Mori” , A Spell for the Death of Man seems to drip emotion and angst edged with searing melody is a very Weakling sort of way, but with more polish and a more direct, deeply personal level of suffering and suffocating atmosphere. “Alone with Our Failures” and the blistering melody of personal favorite “Longing is All That Will Remain” (the section that starts at 4:23 is just intense) explode from the speakers with a precise contorted sense of precise, slicing harmonies. “Condemned as Prey” sees Xos spiting out some vitriol lyrics before the song unleashes a barrage of tightly wound, scathing but at the same time, depressive harmonies. My other favorite track “I See No Civilization” arguably has the most melodic riff, but it’s rendered with such a tangible sense of angst and emotional depth you can almost see wounds, physically and emotional, open before your eyes.
Behind Krallice’s debut, this had to be one of the most impressive debuts of US black metal and all the more impressive it comes from the mind and hands of one tortured individual without stepping over into full on depressive mopey-ness but instead self cuts with a vitriolic sense of self loathing. There’s no doubt in my mind if I had heard this earlier it would have been mentioned in my year end list. I just hope Xos can keep this high standard for any forthcoming releases.
Lost in a wind of thorns and petals, debut full length from USBM act Woe, “A Spell for the Death of Man,” has so much emotion cut in, that it’s hard to believe it all comes from one person. Xos is the asphyxiated soul behind all instruments and vocals. Woe strums the sound of loss and determination to reach an end, depressing as you reluctantly breathe in the odor of raw, atmospheric black metal with an underlying scent of originality. Once you hear them, these tunes will find a new home blasting through your stereo.
The first pill bottle opened is the largest, bordering nine minutes long. “Solitude” contains a melancholic guitar, catalyst to hollow riffs digging deeper and deeper until morphing into a haze of instrumentation and throat destroying screams. Some headbanging swagger makes an entrance as the song’s many textures rise and fall. “Alone with Our Failures” begins with less melancholy and more attitude as you journey further into the ruptured mind of Xos, whose yelling/shrieking vocals, seem to progress in desperation throughout the album. “Condemned as Pray” is aggressive and Xos’ cries are very lifting and raw. This song gives you the feeling of being trapped in a dark shed, gagged and bound amongst shadows, forced to get into the mindset of a predator to survive. Woe's inspiration of the choking grip of an overpopulation of mindless beings and empty shells is felt strongly. Next method of self-harm “No Civilization,” is full of passion. From its very first moment, a cascading guitar streams over. This fire burns for just under eight minutes. The guitars and vocals are certainly the key pieces of the music and give each track a sullen passion. The lonely haze of “Memento Mori” is a refreshing way to end as it’s different from the rest of the album. Everything moves much slower and just fades away into the black.
Woe is an unique experience, being suicidal black metal that still embraces a very moving groove. Supremely intense, “A Spell for the Death of Man” is an atmospheric beast, birthed by the unstoppable force of Xos’ skill. This is the light being shined straight into your eyes as you enter a catatonic state and a must have album for everyone who craves a fix of depraved black metal and isn’t afraid to have their soul vitiated.