Vocalist Kyle Ball defers with a nervous laugh when asked for specifics behind Wake's excellent new full length, Misery Rites. He's not trying to be difficult, he's just not used to talking about himself.
After several splits, EPs, and a few full-lengths—including 2016's acclaimed Sowing the Seeds of a Worthless Tomorrow—of screaming his guts out about "social issues, political issues and shit like that," Ball took a different direction for the Canadian grindcore band's latest effort and pointed his scathing lyrics at his own battles with depression, addiction, and isolation. "It's a lot of stuff I don't really want to get too into, but it's all based on my struggles and stuff that I deal with personally," he says.
Grindcore can be a genre full of call-outs, takedowns and tough guy shit. So it's refreshing to hear Ball turn a familiar refrain, "No gods/no masters … " against himself, "but a slave to disillusionment" on a blistering, straightforward grind track, like "Exile." It's also helped the singer do some healing. "I've never written a song about myself before this record," Ball says. "Doing this was extremely cathartic. It helped me come to a lot of realizations about some things in my life." But he's not ready to go full tabloid about it just yet. "I'm really timid talking about this kind of stuff and putting myself out there to just read about it," he says.
Starting with the title track, Ball built a concept around an ongoing cycle of someone perpetually "killing" the self they hate being, only to end up in the same place and starting over as that same person. A sort of exorcise [sic] in futility. From the opening "Exhumation" through the final "Burial Ground" and back, the album plays out like a series of cycles within a larger one that starts over on repeated listening.
With a common theme to start from, the writing took a more collaborative, focused approach. The band spent a year and half rehearsing, touring and demoing new material before taking it to the studio. Ball revised and rewrote lyrics to each song several times over, and everyone had input throughout the process. It was also the first time the band's current lineup all lived in Calgary at the same time. Founding guitarist and main riff-writer Rob LaChance says it was a complete group effort, unlike in the past.
"We made an album based on a cycle, and Kyle wrote around that, and we wrote around him, and it all kind of came together in this one specific way," LaChance says. That cohesion is maybe best on display in "Paradigm Lost." With an arc that mirrors the concept—and song title—itself, the track opens with an assaulting blast before shifting to a plodding groove that continually breaks down and starts to meander before hurtling back to an even more chaotic close. The band reworked the song together from an earlier version one day in practice, mapping it out to Ball's lyrics before arriving at the final form of the standout track.
Not every song points inward. Ball takes a timeout from soul searching to give his own "Fuck Tha Police"—with vocal help from Ethan McCarthy (Primitive Man/Vermin Womb)—on the scorching dis track "Rot." "That song's just about hating the cops," he says. "It's just a gross song about piece of shit cops." It's one of two song to which the Denver-based McCarthy lends his burly growl (he's also on the brief-and-unhinged "Rumination"), which was another perk of recording in Colorado with veteran engineer Dave Otero (Cattle Decapitation, Khemmis, Cobalt).
"Dave's whole approach to everything was by far the best recording experience I've had so far," LaChance says. "He pushed us all super hard, he had great tones right from the start. He was an animal." "He was awesome to work with," Ball adds. "He wouldn't be afraid to tell you, 'You sucked,' but he wouldn't tell you in a way that would make you feel terrible about yourself. "And he loves Canadians!" LaChance quips.
But really, who doesn't? However, its touring circuit, particularly west of Ontario, can be as brutal as Wake's filthiest riffs. While Edmonton is a manageable three-hour drive from the band's home-base of Calgary, the next closest tour stops north of the U.S. border are Saskatoon (six hours), Vancouver (12 hours), and Winnipeg (16 hours). Limited outlets have pushed the band to tour extensively stateside, as well, where they have grown dedicated followings in Denver, the Midwest and on the East Coast.
In March, Wake begins a four-week North American tour, joining up with Atlanta blackened death/doom band Withered for the U.S. and Eastern Canadian dates. At home in Alberta, Ball and LaChance say the underground has been dominated by doom metal in recent years. While the next closest major city of Edmonton maintains a healthy DIY scene, it can be tough going in Calgary beyond bar metal. "There are a few people doing DIY shows and stuff, but like everywhere else on this continent, the spaces are disappearing," LaChance says. "There's lots of small-time things going on, but they're constantly closing down and reopening."
While isolation can breed invention, LaChance says kids still need stuff to do and places to see live music. Ball and LaChance were both first exposed to grindcore as kids at all ages shows. For LaChance, it was the spectacle of heavyweights Malefaction, which he unflinchingly calls the "Best Canadian grind band of all time." The long-running Winnipeg-based unit released two albums of relentless, inventive grindcore on punk label G7 Welcoming Committee (Propaghandi, The Weakerthans), before breaking up in 2004. But not before playing several life-changing shows in Calgary and Edmonton for a teenage LaChance and his impressionable friends. "They were just wild," LaChance says. "I'd never seen anything like it. Nobody playing that fast. Just sheer aggression. Just blistering fast, just melt your face right off."
Canada might be better known for its technical death metal and progressive thrash when it comes to extreme sounds, but LaChance and Ball say the grindcore scene is alive and well, pointing to old school favorites, like Head Hits Concrete and Fuck The Facts through newer acts, like powerviolence unit Six Brew Bantha (it is also, of course, the homeland of the Grindmother).
LaChance started the band that would become Wake with guitarist Sergey Jmourovski (now of bludgeoning Calgary doom outfit The Weir) back in 2009. At first it was more of a "project" than a band, he says. But things picked up when Ball joined in 2011, and the group started touring more. "We put the pedal down, and that's just what we've done so far," LaChance says. "We haven't really stopped." Not everyone stayed for the ride, but most of the band, which includes Arjun Gill (guitar), Josh Buechert (drums), and Reid Gennutt (bass) has been in place for the last several years.
The band's workmanlike approach to music carries over to their day-to-day. Everyone in the band carries a full-time job—courier, electrician, IT, dishwasher—which they've negotiated to at least tolerate their touring lifestyle. After nearly 10 years, Wake is still a grindcore band at heart, but they've never been afraid to fold in other elements, and Misery Rites is thankfully no exception. Death metal, doom, metallic hardcore, and black metal all get chopped and screwed seamlessly into the mix. "We're all grindcore fans initially, and this is a grindcore band, but we use it as a backboard to blend with other stuff," LaChance says.
"I don't want to recreate Terrorizer World Downfall. I don't want to make that kind of music. We've been doing this long enough that we want to keep it interesting and do more with it and make better music and memorable riffs, not just 30-second blasters all the time."
Stream Misery Rights below.
Catch WAKE on tour next month:
03/10/18 Calgary, AB (CA) The Palomino*
03/16/18 Edmonton, AB (CA) The Starlite Room*
03/17/18 Saskatoon, SK (CA)Amigo's Cantina*
03/24/18 Winnipeg, MB (CA) The Windsor*
03/25/18 Minneapolis, MN (US) 7St Entry*
03/26/18 Dekalb, IL (US) 7St Space*
03/27/18 Chicago, IL (US) Subterranean downstairs
03/28/18 Detroit MI (US) Cellarmens
03/29/18 Pittsburgh, PA (US) Mr. Roboto Project
03/30/18 Toronto, ON (CA) Coalition
03/31/18 Montreal, QC (CA) Casa Del Popolo
04/1/18 Portland, ME (US) Geno's Rock Club
04/2/18 Boston, MA (US) O'Briens's
04/3/18 Philadelphia, PA (US) Kung Fu Necktie
04/4/18 Brooklyn, NY (US) St Vitus
04/5/18 Baltimore, MD (US) Sidebar
04/06/18 Richmond, VA (US) Strange Matter
04/7/18 Spartanburg, SC (US) Ground Zero
04/8/18 Atlanta, GA (US) The Earl
04/9/18 Memphis, TN (US) Rockhouse Live*
04/11/18 Denver, CO (US) Hi-Dive*
Eric Gallipo is wide awake on Twitter.