Black metal has a way of seeking to upset the conventions that polite society holds closest, be it the idea of safety or comfort, or in many cases—sometimes with the burning embers to prove it—organized religion. On “Drown Us With Greatness,” the sixth track on Woe‘s new album Hope Attrition, the Philadelphia black metal band sets its sights on a specific villain: Donald J. Trump. The title itself is a teaser for the song’s content, as if the band were to give one of those ubiquitous red hats the Fantoft treatment, though the song spares no venom: “He wallows in despair/Unsure of how to soothe his swollen ego/He screams out…To the edge we march and hell below.” It’s not subtle, nor is it forgiving. It is, however, one hell of a black metal track.
The direct critique of an undisciplined and destructive political figure in the broader scheme of black metal is perhaps novel. That Hope Attrition harbors some of the strongest black metal of the year thus far isn’t. Since debuting as a solo project for frontman Chris Grigg, Woe has expanded and evolved as a band, showcasing both the dynamics and the muscle of a proper live band while harboring an impressive songwriting prowess on albums like 2013’s Withdrawal. Hope Attrition builds on a decade of growth and maturation that’s seen the band infuse a raw black metal intensity with the immediacy of punk or the furious riffs of thrash metal, only to find themselves with so much more to explore as they continue down this path.
Hooks are in ample supply throughout the album. “Unending Call of Woe,” though titled as if it were some kind of theme song for the band, pivots off of a climactic build-up into a melodic yet explosive verse, one that’s defined less by righteous anger than utter bleakness: “Blacken every bone, blacken every hope.” A simple, subliminally catchy bassline anchors “The Din of the Mourning,” tethering the band’s furious black metal misanthropy to tangible melody, while the gloomy “The Ones We Lost” infuses goth and post-punk textures into a thrashy foundation. It’s entirely appropriate; Grigg’s lament, “The world is damaged and there’s nothing I can change,” feels pretty goth in the scheme of things.
Hope Attrition ends on a particularly pessimistic note, Grigg barking “Dread pervades the day/I am powerless” on the urgent, visceral punch of “Abject in Defeat.” Yet the track is easily one of the catchiest here, suggesting that the proper method to decry the hopelessness of humanity is one that’s perhaps more melodically easy to swallow. Indeed, things look grim at the moment; the orange goblin that Grigg condemns on “Drown Us With Greatness” won, after all. If we’re on a flume ride to hell, however, Hope Attrition is a hell of a soundtrack for plummeting off the edge.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.