When I first heard Wage War‘s 2015 debut, I said something like “They’re good at what they do, but they’re still another generic metalcore band.” But as I continued listening to them, I realized they’re a lot more than “generic.” By writing memorable songs and wearing their hearts on their sleeve, they squashed the biggest criticisms of their sound with the ability to connect. In fact, they turned out to be a breath of fresh air in the scene with their tight production, persistent energy, and sincere lyrics. With their second record, Deadweight, they continue to overcome — and not only their broad-minded approach, but also the hardships that define what the record is all about.
Though their sophomore effort contains many similarities to their rookie effort, Wage War turns things up a notch this time around. With a smoothly blended sound that brings together of the likes of A Day to Remember, As I Lay Dying, Lamb of God, and Blessthefall, they continue to offer listeners the best of all mainstream metal realms. Their biggest shift this time around is an upgrade in all facets. They increase their technicality, add extra oomph to their playing, and make their lyrics deeper and more personal. They also become smarter songwriters and increase variance from song-to-song, from hardcore fury (“Stitch” and “Disdain”) to groovy metal (“Witness”) to moody hard rock (“Gravity”).
Their intimacy is noticeable from the get-go. “Two Years” finds vocalist Briton Bond reflecting on how the band’s success since they released Blueprints has made him feel (I’m still trying to make a difference / Forever looking for my place”). The manner in which the frontman spills out his heart adds weight to his words and makes the record play out like a journal. As the opener turns into “Southbound”, the band’s output is ferocious and meaty. If you like bone-crushing breakdowns, mechanical riffs, sparkling hooks, or meaningful lyrics, you’ll be more than satisfied with what Wage War brings to the table. Throughout the album, they may not surprise, but they still dazzle.
“Don’t Let Me Fade Away” and “Witness” are engaging mid-tempo metal boomers. The former flaunts the record’s catchiest chorus and most heartbreaking lines, which suggest a longing for the past. Bond then comes out on the other side determined in “Witness”, where he confronts harsh truths about humanity (“Weighed down by the pressures of saving face / This is a dark world, I’ll be your witness”). The instrumentalists chime in with breakdowns that add an immense charge to the lyrics, with their placement in all the right spots. In between them, “Stitch” is carefully crafted, and it’s where the members provide their hardest pounding to date.
One of Deadweight’s few curveballs (and biggest highlights), “Gravity” is almost completely full of clean vocals, reminding of Thousand Foot Krutch‘s resonating anthemics. The group even pops in a compact breakdown between choruses to further press the feeling of struggle that Cody Quistad expresses with his cleans. The most enthralling track on the album is the album’s most optimistic cut, “Indestructible”. The track showcases everything the band does well with incredible finesse. After jumping their final chorus up a step, they turn things around and roar into the album’s most empowering breakdown, sparked by the line, “All hope is not lost.” With a riff stolen from Slipknot‘s “The Heretic Anthem”, the next song, “Disdain”, contrasts with a blazing burst of anger.
The song that sticks out most is closer “Johnny Cash”, both because of its name and what that name means to the five-piece. It seems ironic that a band that sticks so closely to a formulated metalcore sound would allude to a 20th century country artist, but they beg a question: are we more focused on finding artists who do something different than we are at finding artists who use their talents to affect us? In a day and age when we’re always looking for the shiny new thing, it’s the artists who deeply affect us are that are doing something different. In that way, they’re playing the role Johnny Cash once played for them.
Wage War’s metalcore conglomeration on this full-length ropes in listeners even more effectively than its predecessor. Any fan of metal should be able to find something that piques their interest, as the Ocala, Florida natives further their capability to engage both musically and emotionally. A record that conveys the need overcome the coldness of our world, Deadweight is the year’s most absorbing and intoxicating metalcore effort.
Metalcore | Fearless Records