The progression from Wake‘s 2011 debut Leeches on up to their sixth album Thought Form Descent hasn’t been the most dramatic or sensational story in metal, but nonetheless one of the most inspiring to watch unfold. The Toronto band began as a grindcore act with a jones for crust punk and black metal, their earliest releases making up with sheer, relentless energy and drive what they might have lacked in imagination. But that energy would have been enough to sustain most bands for several albums—grindcore isn’t exactly the domain of lightweights, and Wake more than held their own. But as they phased out their early hardcore influences in favor of a more melodic sensibility and a darker, more nuanced approach to black metal, Wake in the process became a much better band—one whose potential seemed to increase exponentially.
Thought Form Descent, the band’s first for longtime heavy metal standard bearer Metal Blade, presents a culmination of a long and perpetually more exciting period of evolution from the group. As 2020’s Devouring Ruin found them delving deeper into a broader range of emotion and more versatile palette, they’ve only continued to explore further down the path that led them there, in the process arriving upon something that feels at times massive and frequently devastating. In terms of its ambition, it feels somehow more than human, but the emotional core of it feels more essentially human than any Wake album that’s preceded it.
Where a band like Deafheaven has undergone a transformation away from black metal, stripping away its most characteristic parts until what’s left is something still recognizable but markedly different, Wake have instead been drawn in the opposite direction. The atmospheric, melancholy intro to leadoff track “Infinite Inward” is a case in point, building up from eerie beauty into a full-throated, blast-beaten roar. The group take on a deep and guttural approach with “Swallow the Light,” embracing not just intensity but a proper heaviness, while “Mourning Dirge (Repose of the Dead)” is intricate and dynamic, but harboring a deeply moving melodic sensibility that transcends brutality itself.
Wake offer the harrowing passages along with the beautiful ones, menace with mellifluousness. But there’s no separation between the visceral moments and the emotional ones; it’s all intertwined in this impeccably crafted and highly nuanced black metal record, one that shows that the growth Wake have undergone in over a decade is a process that’s still ongoing. They’re always becoming a better version of themselves, always delivering a stronger manifestation of their best qualities. Thought Form Descent is an act of both exploration and transcendence, an excavation of what was left of black metal’s seemingly overtapped well and the discovery that it has a ways to go before it goes dry.
Label: Metal Blade
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.