May Roundup: Woe Unto Me, Fogweaver & Soen
Sad, sorrowful, and somber music. And some melancholic groovy prog.
Woe Unto Me – Spiral-Shaped Hopewreck
In the current state of the world, one may find many a reason for sadness, and equally manifold are the sadboi bands around the world. But rarely do the reasons and bands meet as well as in the case of the Belarussian (no relation to Lugosi) Woe Unto Me. I strongly recommended their 2017 album Among The Lightened Skies The Voidness Flashed, though I felt the second half of the double album, which featured shorter, somber songs with acoustic guitar and soft vocals against the layered funeral doom majesty of the first, fared not as well. Shortly afterwards I even managed to catch them live in a moldy, seedy, industrial area back alley “bar”, an occasion on which the halves of their music seemed to come together in a more complete fashion.
Though Woe Unto Me long ago decided not to write songs fueled by politics, it’s impossible to believe the almost 30 year reign of a tyrant didn’t play a part: emboldened to act in ways limiting border crossings by land to once every half a year under false pretext, falsifying infection and vaccination statistics (according to guitarist Artem Serdyuk, vaccinations haven’t begun at all yet, and EU certified vaccines are being refused), protesters and people wearing the wrong colored clothes or otherwise carrying symbols of the political opposition are being persecuted, beaten and kidnapped from their homes by the police, and, as I write this, forcing a civilian aircraft passing through their airspace to land yesterday, kidnapping two of its passengers, most likely with the intention of murdering them for opposing Lukashenka. Whew, what a monstrous sentence. One befitting the man.
Spiral-Shaped Hopewreck consists of one massive new original song (the title track) and two covers. Of the latter, Klone‘s “Sad and Slow” fits perfectly into Woe Unto Me’s style, and not knowing the original, I would have believed it to be their own composition. Even though I’m unfamiliar with Klone’s work, this, I should say, is the way to cover songs. Arranged to fit into your own material, and the respective release, regardless of its origin. Together with the title track, it completes the bands transformation from funeral doom act to sadboi metal, though still drawing from their roots as well, better than anything on …The Voidness Flashed. The second cover is that of Meshuggah‘s “Lethargica”, an obviously easier to spot song, not only because of the familiarity of the material’s origin, but also because the distinct riffing style. For WUM’s benefit, they work on a similarly inspired riffing on the title track as well, and the cover’s arrangement has at least been thought through, it doesn’t come out of nowhere either.
The three songs are tied together by 4 interludes to successfully try and connect each track, as more integral individual components. The result is an excellent showing of deep doom, angular aggression and shades of old sadboi Katatonia, with thematic hints at the upcoming third Woe Unto Me full-length.
Fogweaver – Vedurnan
If you’re looking to forget your earthly troubles, to get lost in a magical world of no worries, or just to shake the Sunday scaries you’re having mid-Thursday, I wouldn’t recommend reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle. Or much anything else by her, as a matter of fact. But I might very well recommend the soothing sounds of the aptly named Fogweaver, a dungeon synth project inspired by her work, especially the aforementioned cycle. The mists and mysteries of their dungeon synth are traditional and old school in arrangement and tone, and are fortunately modern in the scale of execution. Have a listen, you know you need to.
Soen – Imperial
Against what at first seemed all odds, Soen has managed to carve their own niche into prog metal and create a sound synonymous with themselves. This comes with its own dangers but vocalist Joel Ekelöf and drummer Martin Lopez have managed to sail their ship through many a storm and weathered even more line-up changes, the latest of which saw the entrance of bassist Oleksii Kobel.
On the surface, little has changed, as it ever does, and songs like “Deceiver” and “Antagonist” offer exactly what you’d expect from, and if you’re still following the group, want from Soen. Poppy prog metal with more sweet vocal hooks, Gilmore-esque guitar solos (if he felt nimble and flashy) lush chords and rhythmic riffing goodness, while the keyboards shine on the ballads and fall strangely absent elsewhere.
But eventually it became to feel like the biggest, lushest chords that had marked many of Soen’s previous albums’ individual high points were gone. Kobel’s bass is nicely present and becomes the most important source of depth for the majority of the album, but it has a tendency to get lost in the mix when the going gets loud, which robs it of much of its power. The mix isn’t entirely to the band’s benefit either. It’s dry, flat and booming in a way that makes it also feel heavier, but forces the instruments to compete for the same space. If Imperial sounds similar to Hellyeah, Disturbed or FFDP in terms of sound and mix, it might be because the band chose to work with producer Kane Churko, best known for cutting his claws working with those bands to create the modern US radio metal sound. Not a move I congratulate, but it’s not easy to miss the apparent reasons why a band like Soen would want to have someone like him on board.
It would feel a little odd saying that Soen is only now settling into a groove, but that’s definitely one of the dangers in carving your own niche, and Soen finds it increasingly difficult to break away from, or expand, the sound that has come to define them, and with a sound so synonymous with the band, it’d feel like they were tracing their steps in any case. But on Imperial it’s clear Soen is mostly taking cues from themselves while losing the thread on what made Lykaia or Lotus so good. The delicate balance is disturbed as the band works on an even narrower palette than before. Only two stones were used in the making of this album, and most of its songs were carved from one and the same.
But as the songs have less in them, both between them and in each, they leave more room for Ekelöf, who once again surpasses himself, employing a more diverse range of his voice, heavy on drama and perfectly fitting the chorus-centric formula. Paradoxically, that means by being less, Imperial is more than its predecessors. It’s heavier, it’s louder and it’s catchier, it’s so much bigger in sound that it’s an inevitable letdown the songwriting cannot follow suit, and after a while the band is unable to switch into higher gear anymore.
A dull mix and some of the arrangements almost seem to be at odds with the ultra-formulaic songwriting. Imperial feels like an attempt to capitalize on the hook-laden direction of Tellurian, as opposed to the more long-winded approach of its successor, but though it’s far from either bad or terrible, it leaves a little too much to be desired to not be a disappointment.