Maintaining clarity while embracing technicality and an onslaught mentality is the key to many a metal sub-genre but death metal might be the central one. There’s something about the genre that just shines when you contrast it. Perhaps it’s the overall pummeling pace, thick guitars crashing on you all the while or maybe it’s the vocal approach, line after line of thick gutturals assaulting you. When you take these two mainstays of the genre and work some contrast into them, by using unexpected melody, instruments, or structures, the aggression seems to pop and convey itself even more.
WAKE‘s Devouring Ruin is a masterclass in this principle. Channeling death metal, grindcore, black metal, post metal, and even doom alongside some enchanting melodies, the album is a furious, busy, and overwhelming piece of music. Nonetheless, by adding unexpected touches and sounds, it manages to stay grounded and fascinating even as it keeps piling on idea upon musical idea. The result is a tough nut to crack, an album that requires several listens to really parse, but which holds much of interest for those who would dedicate that time to understanding it.
Perhaps the best place to begin is with “This Abyssal Plain”, an absolutely monstrous track. It starts right off the bat with an unstoppable deluge of bleak vocals, bordering on the low, filthy squeals of grindcore, and non-stop blastbeats. The guitars go just as hard, their thick tone adding to the brutal delivery of the track’s main riff. But then, less than one minute in, everything fades away and leaves a sort of sickly, distorted electronic beat behind it that’s accompanied by wailing vocals that remind us of The Body‘s darker works. When the instruments return on the other side of this short segment, they are much slower and more pummeling than overwhelming, suddenly in possession of more melody and depth. That melody then explodes in the form of a lead guitar line that runs morose nails across the blackboard of the track, scoring a deep cut in the otherwise aggressive sound.
The drums and guitars from the beginning of the track return, of course, but they are transformed by the more melodic and melancholy passage that came before it. Elsewhere, these melodic notes play side by side with the heavier sounds, like on the enchanting “Mouth of Abolition” which also showcases the excellent and dexterous bass on the album. It does wonders in the back of the mix as the more scintillating guitar tone operates with the crushing vocals to once again channel that sad, depressing heaviness that Devouring Ruin is all about. This is all right before a more black metal inspired segments leads us, through a few dozen seconds of the band firing all cylinders, into another melodic segment, where more open chords once again give flight to the contrasting, and beautiful, counterpart. Make sure to also pay attention to the evocative solo which marks the passage before last of this track and the way it sets up the outro of the track.
These sort of blistering back and forth moments, dotted with great musical ideas and bewildering switches in sound, are expertly handled. Everything comes together to an album that’s punishing, unexpected, and often poignantly beautiful. That sort of contrast that we opened with, the melding of the brutally heavy with the melodically beautiful that makes death metal (and this album is at least death metal adjacent) work so well, is at the beating heart of Devouring Ruin and the result is magnificent. Do yourself a favor and take the time to decipher this one; an intricate, moving, and obliterating album awaits you on the other side if you do.
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Devouring Ruin was released on March 27th. You can head on over to the band’s Bandcamp page above to grab it.