Werewolves Take Raucous Blackened Death Metal “From the Cave to the Grave” (Review)
Effective satire requires an element of truth in its absurdity. Thus, a headline like “God Answers Prayers of Paralyzed Little Boy: ‘No,’ Says God” is funny because the idea of “God” (or whatever) answering in the negative is only a slight exaggeration of “God” simply not answering the prayer; and a headline like “Holy Spirit Unable to Move Through Congregation as Fog Machine Breaks” isn’t funny because (mega)churches aren’t rock concerts and because it doesn’t make sense for a spirit to get lost in fog, especially a spirit that’s part of an omniscient deity.
Australian blackened death metal trio Werewolves understand this distinction. Indeed, they’ve built their entire (short) career on it. A running joke throughout their catalog is how silly and brainless extreme music can be in terms of its often crude and coarse nature (and how its fans are mouth-breathing philistines for enjoying it). The band demonstrates this by being philistinistic edgelords playing at a near-constant jackhammering tempo. It’s a refreshing level of self-awareness. To wit: it takes more than a little self-awareness to call your own music “filthy knuckle-dragging blackened death metal grind for you to lick your palms to” and then call your fans “fucking freaks” to top it off. Same goes for suggesting that your own music destroys your fans’ hearing and IQ while highlighting the overly graphic nature of your own album covers.
Naturally, Werewolves’ vocalist and bassist Sam Bean opened the band’s solid 2020 debut LP The Dead Are Screaming with a potential portrait of metalheads at a show: “Cock your leg / And piss an Earth-sized circle / Take tongues / Of those who talk you down / Jackboots / Send a message clear / Dominance / Stamp their face into the mud.” Similarly, their even-better follow-up, 2021’s sarcastically-titled What A Time to Be Alive, starts with Bean barking, “I don’t like you / Fucking hate you / You disgust me / Loathe your worldview,” and then declaring, “If you were the last person on Earth, I’d fucking kill us both." It should be noted, though, that Bean is smarter and more creative than it would initially appear, and he can induce listener-chortling without relying on a string of expletives. What A Time to Be Alive’s “Mission Statement” and “Crushgasm” are two such examples. The former offers a death metal haiku: “Sounds like a car crash / We do not fucking like you / I stink of denim.” The latter skewers Mayhem’s “Deathcrush” and other gore-obsessed songs and bands in just a few lines: “I love mindless violence / Artistic lyric license / I love mindless, headless violence / Lose my mind over war crimes.”
But since Werewolves operate best, and sound most comfortable, in the “ain’t broke” mode, the first lyrics on their new record, From the Cave to the Grave, are just as uproariously abusive as anything Bean’s written thus far: “Fuck you / I’ll fucking kill you / Endless horror / Bitter screaming loss / The cost of fate / Of course you folded.” The song “Self-Help Book-Burning” makes fun of self-improvement and its futility: “And then you tried fasting and drank juices / And then you bought memberships but ignored them all / And then you bought another book / But it’s too fucking late, you stupid fucking cunt.” This over-the-top castigation continues on throughout the record.
And while—like their two previous releases—this absurd vulgarity can be found throughout the album, it isn’t the entirety of its lyrical content. Here, Bean offers some topical thoughts about the world. “Crushing Heaven’s Mandate” is a fairly straightforward and pointed screed against the CCP: “Happiness, liberty / These are meant for others / Fuck you and your hurt feelings / Go oppress one another / Need to buy what friends you have / And they still hate you / Assembly line a century long / Delivers what you deserve.” There’s also discussion of a loss of self-control as well as cynical apathy towards existence, plus the quasi-disturbing “Oedipus Tyrannus,” which deals with the struggle of having an Oedipal Complex (“Thy cradle was thy marriage bed / Step-brother, what are you doing? / Step-son, what have you done?”). Indeed, this is a darker record than the previous two, if only because the line between joke and not is blurrier here. It’s a bold choice for fans expecting for them to fight against (lyrical) evolution. Instead, they seem to have chosen a darker path in order to branch out.
Which might explain why this record sounds darker, too. Their first two records feature razor-sharp (and often catchy) riffing from guitarist Matt Wilcock laid over the nimble rhythm section of Bean and drummer David Haley (of Psycroptic). And while this collection of songs appears the same on the surface—a series of blackened death metal whirling dervishes—there is some tinkering. “We Are Better than You” and “Oedipus Tyrannus” have a thrashy feel that offers a nice, if quick, change of pace to their standard galloping tremolo riffing and blast beats. Similarly, “Harvest of the Skulls” sees the band play with (gasp!) some slow and melodic playing with promising results. Neither mode, however, changes or otherwise adversely affects what Werewolves do best—mercilessly bludgeoning the listener over the head as fast as possible, as many times as possible.
But even with some sonic minor experimentation, it’s unlikely that Werewolves are going to evolve much past what Bean smirkingly called “regressive” and “drooling” death metal in a recent interview. This is for the best. Much like AC/DC, Cannibal Corpse, and The Black Dahlia Murder, Werewolves really only do one thing, and they do it exceptionally well. And they work just as quickly. According to that same interview, From the Cave to the Grave was completed a year ago but was held back by the label so it could be properly promoted. Furthermore, the guitars, bass, and drums for the next album are already done. Obviously, it’s unclear exactly what the finished product will be, but when Bean proclaims—perhaps jokingly, perhaps not—that swearing “is the coolest thing ever” and that you shouldn’t “let any teacher tell you otherwise,” it’s probably not going to be some shocking or confounding left-turn that alienates their fans. So even as From the Cave to the Grave is slightly less memorable and fun than its immediate predecessor, it’s still an overall engaging and enjoyable listen, and the potential for future releases set forth via careful experimentation more than makes up for it.
From the Cave to the Grave released June 24th via Prosthetic Records.