Comedy and metal have always made for slightly awkward bedfellows. When you consider just how fertile the ground is for humour in metal, it is slightly surprising that there isn’t more of it about. In the main, even when daubing oneself in elaborate facepaint and writing high velocity peons to a goblin king or the gory details of open heart surgery, metal is a deadly serious business. Well… it’s at least serious in intent, anyway. However, London quartet aAnd? are very obviously out to tip the balance towards mirth, and away from misery with their EP wWoof?
Apart from their obvious distaste for straightforward typography, aAnd? have a penchant for big grooves, packaged up in relatively short songs and punctuated with an impressively broad collection of ludicrous samples. Whereas some of the more well-known comedy metal acts – especially Steel Panther, Spinal Tap or The Hell – are effectively spoofing their respective sub-genres, aAnd? don’t necessarily lampoon metal, they just enjoy being silly while they play it. This point is rammed home particularly hard in the live environment, as aAnd? take to the stage wearing matching checkerboard morph-suits, which manage to be simultaneously anonymising and alarmingly revealing. An aAnd? show is fundamentally a mixture of short, sharp blasts that verge on grindcore, some hulking great riffs and a whole heap of weapons-grade titting about.
In turn, this does present a minor issue as the songs make the transition from the stage to the studio. Does the material stand up on it’s own, separated from the compelling and deeply amusing spectacle of the performance? It would be fair to say that this EP’s predecessor, 2014’s aAlbum?, was a mixed affair at best, and didn’t really capture aAnd?’s true spirit. However, a much thicker-sounding recording, as well as the addition in the interim of a second guitarist, have resolved a lot of these issues.
wWoof? kicks off in a suitably absurdist fashion, with chicken noises serving as the introduction to the gloriously titled “Cattle Defenestration!”, clocking in at under two minutes of stop-start thrashing. Elsewhere, the most overtly silly moment is “wWomble?”, a fifteen second interlude that splices shards of grind with snippets of the theme tune of the children’s TV show of the same name. Madness. The four standard-length songs, however, are played rather straighter, with only occasional flashes of irreverence thrown in, almost as a cheeky little aside. A sample here, an incongruously cheery ‘Woo!’ there.
Lead single “Bear Hugs”, for example, may begin with a nursery rhyme-style introduction and fart sample prelude to its heaviest section, but the track itself is a pleasingly solid and meaty slab of mid-paced sludge-groove. “…Baghdad Brodown!” lurches into Will Haven territory, and “…I Am A Mighty Pirate…PREPARE TO DIE!” is fundamentally one long breakdown, ever decreasing in speed. “…Pirate..” itself is a re-recorded holdover from aAlbum?, and the comparison between the two versions shows just how far the band have come.
aAnd? aren’t pushing any musical boundaries with wWoof?, but they’re not trying to. They may not take themselves very seriously at all, but their riffs and arrangements are so effective in their relative simplicity that they can only have been crafted with a certain degree of thought and care. In turn, this means that the songs stand up on their own two feet and don’t merely serve as a flimsy pretext for onstage high-jinx. aAnd? give you permission to simply enjoy an uncomplicated heavy riff with a big smile on your face, and we don’t tend to get many of them.