WAKE – Thought Form Descent

Genre: Black/Death Metal | Label: Metal Blade
Location: Calgary, Alberta | Listen: Bandcamp

Calgary’s WAKE have been working tirelessly over the years, as can be seen by their endless touring, and the release of their sixth album. “Thought Form Descent,” which is also their debut on Metal Blade Records, sees these Canucks taking the lessons learned from their last album, “Devouring Ruin,” and expanding on them even farther. That 2020 album saw the band shed a lot of their grindcore influences in favor of more black/death metal, and saw the band embellish their songs with more mature songwriting. “Thought Form Descent” keeps running with this style, but adds in a healthy dose of melody without sacrificing any of the extremity they’ve been known for throughout their existence.

No one really wants to write the same album twice, and sometimes bands will avoid that just by having line up changes between every record. “Thought Form Descent,” however, marks the first time that WAKE retained the same line up as the previous record. As such, it’s apparent this line up gels with each other well, as they’re able to craft some long and dizzying tunes, with song lengths generally sitting between 6 and 9 minutes. Gone are the days of the 2 minute songs where riffs whiz by at maximum speed, barely giving the listener time to digest them. Here, things are felt out, layered, and nuanced as they progress, showing a lot of thought with each song. The album opener, “Infinite Inward,” shows this well, as melodies from the more relaxed intro are reintroduced at the end to create something that feels complete.

As with “Devouring Ruin,” clean guitars pop up here and there to create a little breathing room, such as in “Swallow the Light.” Lead guitarist Arjun Gill (who has been with the band on the last 4 albums) has certainly found his voice with his playing. His sense of melody is stellar, and he’s able to add in a lot of musicality and dynamics with the lead lines that he adds in over the chord work that is prominent throughout the record. WAKE uses a lot of black metal inspired chord word, sometimes keeping it more traditional by just blasting through them with tremolo picking, but also opening them up with some arpeggios and adding in tension with some dissonance. “Mourning Dirge” sees Gill’s playing add in some extra atmosphere the way it’s layered in on this song, and when some of those chord progressions open up, bassist Ryan Kennedy fills the space up in interesting ways. As I stated with my review of “Devouring Ruin,” a lot of this feels similar to Deathspell Omega, but it still sounds like the guys in WAKE playing it. “Observer to Master” probably has some of the prettiest stuff on a WAKE album yet, as the melodic bit in the middle is rather elegant, and stands in contrast to the disgustingly dissonant part right after.

“Thought Form Descent” is the third album the band has recorded in Denver with Dave Otero, a relationship that seems to be very fruitful for the band. This is also drummer Josh Bueckert’s third record with the band, and if you’ve seen him live, you know he has some incredible chops. His playing sounds phenomenal on this record, as you’ll feel every blast beat, and his more creative playing comes through real nice with nuanced ghost notes (check out that drum pattern in “Venerate” before the blasting kicks in). There’s a huge amount of atmosphere to be found among the heaviness, with extra little layers of reverb behind the madness to create a really huge sound.

WAKE has really taken their music to the next level, not only from their initial metalcore infused grind of the earlier material, but from album to album, coming into their own unique style of dynamic black/death metal. “Thought Form Descent” is a wonderfully balanced album with all sorts of shades colours, but it still manages to sound extreme and powerful. The colourful artwork itself essentially foreshadows the dynamics played here, as it is a thing of beauty, and it is hauntingly powerful at the same time.


WAKE – Devouring Ruin

Genre: Black/Death Metal | Label: Translation Loss
Location: Calgary, Alberta | Listen: Bandcamp

Coming from the Canadian city of Calgary, WAKE have been on an absolute tear over the last six years, and have evolved a lot since they initially started grinding back in 2009. Seeing as Calgary is just a stone’s throw away from Edmonton, I’ve had the opportunity to witness this band’s growth first hand, and I’m always amazed at how far they’ve matured as songwriters and musicians, but still sounding uniquely like themselves. “Devouring Ruin” is their fifth album, and marks a major stylistic shift that sees them diving farther into black/death metal, and they do it in quite the artful manner.

Right off the bat, the band starts the album with a clean guitar strumming some chords, as if to bluntly let listeners know that this is a different beast than their last two magnificent grinding albums, “Sowing the Seeds of a Worthless Tomorrow” and “Misery Rites.” Those records had a lot more in common with bands like Knelt Rote or Infernal Coil, where here they start to chase things that have a little more breathing room, like Deathspell Omega. That being said, a lot of WAKE’s earlier influences are still present if you’re paying attention. The breakdown halfway through “This Abyssal Plain” sounds very metalcore-eque, but the way they let it play out is different. They turn it into a chord progression, and layer some leads on it, and the way it builds up is a perfect example of the maturity in WAKE’s songwriting.

Coming back to the Deathspell Omega influence, we can see that throughout the record in the way they utilize chords more thoughtfully. You can hear some dissonant arpeggios in their early stuff, but here it’s fully realized into a progression, which is on full display on tracks like “Mouth of Abolition.” Instead of grinding through everything in a couple minutes, WAKE takes the time to open some parts up, and on this track you can hear some active bass lines from former-drummer-now-bassist Ryan Kennedy. Kennedy’s return to the band may have very well been a catalyst in the push for a more dynamic record, and I’m sure he had something to do with book-ending the previously mentioned tracks with ambient interludes.

Looking at the song lengths alone is enough to know that WAKE really pushed for something more on this album than they had previously. They had been hinting at that kind of thing with the closing track “Misery Rites” (which is over 7 minutes), so it certainly was in their ability to push things further. There’s more lengthy songs here, and the overall album is about twice the length as previous records. “Torchbearer” exceeds 10 minutes, but by no means drags. This is another song I feel that displays some of the band’s early metalcore influences, as an earlier part in the song sounds very much like the title track of Converge’s “Jane Doe.” But make no mistake, WAKE still blasts their way through plenty of parts, as this song is full of tremolo chord progressions and powerful blastbeats. Furthermore, they do contrast these longer songs with some that are a little more concise, like “In the Lair of the Rat King,” which literally blasts off with some real janky grindcore riffs.

WAKE’s albums have had a huge increase in production quality over the years, and this is their second one they recorded with Dave Otero down in Denver. “Devouring Ruin” sounds rich, full, and heavy thanks to his attention to detail throughout the recording process. Josh Bueckert’s drumming sounds clear and powerful, and all the dynamics come out well in his playing. Vocalist Kyle Ball sounds monstrous, as his double tracked low vocals add an extra layer of demonic sound to the songs. It’s no wonder these guys have stuck with him, as they’ve also recorded their latest record with him as well.

“Devouring Ruin” is tremendous album that does black/death metal from a very different approach thanks to their background in grindcore/metalcore/crust punk. WAKE have managed to put out a record that’s both punishingly heavy and artfully creative at the same time, and there’s a lot to sink your teeth into here. At the time of writing this, the band are currently promoting the follow up to this record, which further pushes their new approach with a heavy dose melody and lead guitar work. If you’re reading this review because you’ve already heard “Thought Form Descent,” or you enjoyed the previous black/death/grind hybrid sound on the previous couple records, you absolutely need to hear “Devouring Ruin.”