I have a lot of genuine praise for Suffering The Void! The instrumentalist tenacity of Wargrave has never been as eloquently displayed live, with dodgy venue sound and drunken haze typically thwarting a good listening experience, but with this album now etching itself into my mind I’ll be paying far closer attention at my next Wargrave concert.
Throughout the ‘noughties’ (2000-2009) in South Africa, thrash seemed all but drowned beneath the flood where nu-metal, black, and death reigned supreme. In April 2011, Wargrave appeared very suddenly on the gigging circuit to join long-standing thrashers Infanteria (ironically, sharing the same front man for a short time, a fact which becomes important as I get into the nitty-gritty of my review) and some few others to add their DNA to a suddenly growing breed: a new era of appreciation for thrash metal. And alas! It has taken that many years for Wargrave to finally release their debut album. However, their debut offering Suffering The Void will be formally launched this very weekend on Saturday 14 November, 2015, and I’m finding that it has been well worth the wait.
In biding their time, the band have certainly profited from being able to fine-tune their sound and skill. On the guitars and bass guitar front, this album offers an absolutely fantastic performance delivery of highly enjoyable riffs, plus sublime shreds and bass lines! In fact, I dare venture to say that I’ve seldom heard such an exciting bass guitarist as Jacques Jansen van Rensburg (also in Crimson House) in local metal since the likes of William Bishop in his Architecture Of Aggression days, or Diccon Harper from Voice Of Destruction (who was so quick-fingered, he was even up to the task of playing with UK’s Dragonforce in 2001-2002 with fellow South African, vocalist ZP Theart). Also, having referenced Dragonforce, one cannot help but to think that Wargrave‘s lead guitarist, Justin Ross, isn’t trying to write a page of his own in that very book with his lightning solos and singing guitar tone! If not for the more aggressive vocal style of Heinrich Kollner and general attitude of bad-assery from guitarist Brendan Stubbs, you might at some moments forget that you’re listening to a thrash album and not power metal. I’d be equally pleased either way.
Production sounds great and shows once again how South African engineers and producers are working tirelessly and ever so diligently to narrow the gap which has long distinguished local metal releases from the international realm. Wargrave‘s Suffering The Void adds to that growing legacy, with a great mix and crisp tones. Perhaps more so because those loving touches were applied by one of the band’s own, having been produced by vocalist Heinrich Kollner of Burning Tone Studios himself. Whilst not exactly complaining, I was only slightly confused by the drum tones but learned upon closer examination that it was a hybrid approach between acoustic recording and sampled sounds laid in. Perhaps my musical snobbery always begs to ask if drums are programmed when too much evidence presents itself in the form of samples, but the clearly genuine cymbal work convinced me that this was actually just a brutally diligent performance by Jason Jardim in studio and some samples overlaid for extra punch.
Of course, the aforementioned snobbery is not so easy to appease when it comes to vocals; where the only local “alternative” artists I think I’ve ever regarded with full marks were the likes of Francois Blom of V.O.D / K.O.B.U.S!, Ashton Nyte of The Awakening, Hanu De Jong of The Narrow, Igor Crous of Marching Dead, and Chris Hall of Infanteria (and only on his more recent performance with their 2015 Where Serpents Conquer release, mind you!), and… yeah. That pretty much sums it up. Snobbery, I admit. So Wargrave. It is interesting to note that half the songs on this album were originally written with the aforementioned Chris Hall of Infanteria still in the band. In my humble opinion, those are pretty big shoes for anybody to fill, and tens to Heinrich for stepping up to that task. Furthermore, congratulations to him for largely nailing it! There are, however, those small moments peppered in and among some songs on Suffering The Void where we can hear Heinrich falls just slightly shy of what he’s reaching for; yet the other songs where he had the opportunity to apply his own comfortable range clearly sounds it and I salute his dynamism and bold approach. Not many metal vocalists hereabouts have the courage to step outside of their one-(or at best, two)-dimensional death-growl, and hearing these adventurous vocal lines from Wargrave are a refreshing change with some really enjoyable hooks. I’m expecting even greater things when the next album comes to life with 100% of Heinrich’s own natural range and ideas applied. All I’d like to add is: don’t let it take as long!
Wargrave are launching Suffering The Void this weekend (Saturday 14 November) at ROAR, 299 Lower Main Road, Observatory, Cape Town. Join the official facebook event page for full details.