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Rwake

Voices of Omens

(Relapse; US: 20 Feb 2007; UK: 26 Feb 2007)

More than a decade since the release of Eyehategod’s seminal Southern doom metal opuses Take as Needed for Pain and Dopesick, the influence is undeniable, as a generation of musicians have followed the lead of the New Orleans legends. These days it seems you can’t name an American metal band that hasn’t drawn liberally from the Eyehategod catalog. From Mastodon, to Kylesa, to Lair of the Minotaur, to Minsk, younger bands are trudging through the sludge, hacking their way through the kudzu, delving further into the kind of dark, desolate territory that yields music that is as harrowing as it is soulful, with tar-thick riffs that, for all their lugubriousness, mine blues and Southern rock, accompanied by primal screams that hint at some serious dementia lurking out there in the woods.


Arkansas sextet Rwake are yet another band that hails from the Eyehategod/Crowbar/Acid Bath school, but like the best young acts, are able to take that sound and give it their own distinct tweak, and their third album, and first for Relapse, Voices of Omens is one hell of a spellbinding, hour-long journey. In fact, Rwake know more about dynamic songwriting than the majority of their peers; while the Southern sludge aspect dominates the entire record, the music has enough twists and turns to command our attention throughout. We’re treated to moments of Mastodon’s progressive ferocity, the crushing power of Neurosis, the atmospherics of black metal, sumptuous dual guitar harmonies shamelessly yanked from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, the space rock jams of Hawkwind, slick guitar solos that bring out the ubiquitous Skynyrd comparisons, and if that weren’t enough, a little 1980s Metallica influence (think Southern-fried Justice).


With songs that average more than seven minutes in length, monotony never sets in, the stylistic shifts plentiful, but sounding natural. The nine-and-a-half-minute “Of Grievous Abominations” is a terrific example; starting with a descending guitar lick that sounds more ornate than rustic, guitarists Gravy and Kiffin inject some black metal iciness into the somewhat rigid stoner arrangement as the male-female vocal duo of C.T. and Brit scream in such a way that it’s impossible to distinguish the two. A mellifluous solo departs as quickly as it appears, Mastodonian groove gives way to Sabbatherican ponderousness, the song downshifts even more to that Eyehategod speed (or lack thereof), which then dissolves into a break of Neurosis’s post metal, giving way to a grimly gorgeous final flourish.


Elsewhere, black metal screeches (which sound like they were recorded in a dank cavern) and swirling effects offset the mournful doom arrangement that dominates the opening third of “The Finality”, giving way to a plaintive coda of piano and acoustic guitar. The devastatingly melancholic “Leviticus” is highlighted by a pair of acoustic interludes that inject some Southern gothic sound into the mix, but quickly builds in intensity, eventually rivaling anything from Mastodon’s Remission album, climaxing with a down-tuned jam midway through. “Inverted Overtures” provides perhaps the biggest surprise, that being some actual “clean” singing courtesy of Brit, who coos away during the opening minute, but fear not, as the dual screams kick into high gear soon after, and thanks to the most restrained arrangement on the record, gets darn near elegiac during the dignified solo break, bringing to mind the likes of Down and Corrosion of Conformity. Meanwhile, dialogue from Walter Hill’s film Extreme Measures is sampled on “Crooked Rivers”, and black metal, pulverizing doom, and spaced-out jams all come to a violent collision on the closing track, “The Lure of Light”.


Having produced excellent albums by such artists as Pelican, Yakuza, Lair of the Minotaur, and Minsk, Sanford Parker was the perfect choice to helm this album, and he creates a superb mix on Voices of Omens, the guitar tones rich, the percussion massive, every aspect clearly defined, going against what one might usually expect from a sludge band. Some listeners might take issue with the band’s reliance on so much extreme screaming, but it works well here, almost playing a supporting role for the diverse guitar sounds, contributing greatly to the morbid atmosphere without overwhelming everything else. Three albums in, Rwake clearly know how to play to their strengths, yet another in what has become a very impressive wave of post-Eyehategod, American underground metal acts.

Rating:

Adrien Begrand has been writing for PopMatters since 2002, and has been writing his monthly metal column Blood & Thunder since 2005. His writing has also appeared in Metal Edge, Sick Sounds, Metallian, graphic novelist Joel Orff's Strum and Drang: Great Moments in Rock 'n' Roll, Knoxville Voice, The Kerouac Quarterly, JackMagazine.com, StylusMagazine.com, and StaticMultimedia.com. A contributing writer for Decibel, Terrorizer, and Dominion magazines and senior writer for Hellbound, he resides, blogs, and does the Twitter thing in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.


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"Crooked Rivers" (live)
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10 Nov 2011
Rwake is a solemn and intensely emotional band and its new album resonates with a hypnotizing cathartic energy. Anything but straightforward sludge.
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