Wake: Pursuing The Primordial

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On 27 March 2020, just days after much of the so-called west had begun to properly react to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian deathgrinders WAKE released their fifth full-length album Devouring Ruin. The only thing was, it wasn’t much of a deathgrind album at all. Sprawling across a 45-minute runtime, with multiple tracks topping five and even ten minutes, it marked their most staggering evolution thus far – a work of breathtaking and dynamic metallic fury that insisted on the attention of all who heard it even in the midst of the most chaotic early days of the pandemic.

With no opportunity to tour the record in question, the five-piece instead doubled down, re-entering the studio to emerge with the arguably even more masterful Thought Form Descent. Despite its origins in an environment of COVID-19-induced claustrophobia, it’s an album which sees the band push their sound to even more expansive and elemental territories, with this embellished by an ambitious thematic concept of escapism and existentialism. For bassist Ryan Kennedy, “one is definitely a result of the other, and it’s mostly because we had to write so much music because there was nothing else we could do… I think a direct result of having nowhere to go was kind of to push the music outwards.”

Of course, neither this new record nor Devouring Ruin came entirely out of the blue. Even from their days as a crusty little grind brand, WAKE have always sought to push themselves and evolve. “I would say that it’s challenging at first to ask yourself what does it mean when we have a bunch of rules for ourselves that already exist”, offers Kennedy. “I think the biggest thing for me personally is that you have to apply your awareness to realise when you’re biased about something. So I would say it’s good in the sense that you can ask those questions, but you can’t be afraid to set your own lines in the sand too.”

One of the biases that Kennedy and co. specifically set out to challenge on Thought Form Descent relates to the very notion of heaviness itself. As we chat about just what it is that makes music heavy, he namechecks everyone from singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell to post-hardcore legends QUICKSAND, suggesting, “Now that there’s so much to try and there are so many different metal genres, I think a lot of bands go deep into a singular well in order to try and say that heaviness is this really specific thing that they’re doing. A lot of the time I don’t mind – it’s fine. If you want to be best in class for a really specific thing that you’re doing, that’s not a bad thing. It’s just for me I’m really after more of a primordial sense of what has that emotional weight.”

It seems the natural result of this then is an album of careful and considered patience, with the band again providing even more lengthy songs full of intricate details that reward their listeners more and more on every listen. “This record really is more geared towards the type of person who puts on a record from track one to track 10 and listens to the whole thing,” explains Kennedy. “In that context, the length of each particular piece starts to have a lot less importance, like it’s not really as big of a deal whether one song is ten minutes long or a different song is four minutes long, it’s just kind of on for it to be on for the length of the piece.”

“It’s for a much more niche type of listener, but I do think that we definitely share one thing as a band which is that we usually make records that are supposed to be like that,” he continues. “Even back in 2013 I think that’s how everybody in WAKE was thinking, even though maybe we got to the end in a different way. We definitely were all looking at the record from the whole perspective and I think that the people we’re looking to reach with this kind of music are people who are interested in the whole experience.”

As for how this all comes together, Kennedy likens the process to that of constructing a pyramid – first building the individual bricks, and then working out where each one fits. Sometimes this can mean abandoning an idea entirely, or allowing it to be significantly altered in order for it to make sense in the wider context of the record, but while such a process may sound quite painstaking, Kennedy suggests that it all comes pretty naturally to WAKE – no doubt thanks to the band’s clear and shared overarching vision

“We’re lucky to have a line-up that we all really feel comfortable with,” he concludes. “So I think the goal probably is to not fail to take advantage of a good time or of a good idea that might really work with what we’re doing. We’re cognizant of the luck we’ve had and the compositions we’ve made that have had an effect, but we want to make sure we don’t just try to redo anything… We want to get our experimentation right and make sure we don’t waste a record on some tangent that doesn’t actually do what is the best that we can do. We want to make sure we’re making something new.”

Thought Form Descent is out now via Metal Blade Records.

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