Woe Betide You
Season of Mist
Reviewed By Michael O'Brien
After taking a six-month break from reviewing, I was looking to pick up something relatively easy to break myself back into the routine. A new band, described in the promotional material as being avant-garde black metal featuring members of Swedish Shining and Teitanblood, appeared to be a no-brainer, but Woe Betide You turned out to be anything but easy.
Considering the pedigree of both Shining and Teitanblood, it seemed to me that the chances of Woe Betide You being good, or at the very least interesting, would be very high, despite not having a clear picture of exactly what was meant by the ‘avant-garde black metal’ descriptor. With myriad possibilities at hand, what I hadn’t considered, or expected, was that Woe Betide You would be a surprisingly dull, ordinary affair, despite its attempts to blend together a number of different genres.
To be honest, finding a satisfactory way to describe how Woe Betide You sounds has proven to be rather difficult. If I were to look for a point of comparison, then I think the best I can offer is to liken it to albums like Ved Buens Ende’s Written in Waters or maybe Mamaleek’s Out of Time in a distant cousin kind of way, but this doesn’t really hold up under much scrutiny. Instead, it probably serves best to say that Lice have taken influence from a variety of genres including post-black metal, post-punk, and the softer side of Shining and have attempted to project these ideas through an avant-garde prism.
This is certainly not an unworthy creative direction to take, but even after a couple of months with the end result, I still have no idea what the album is supposed to actually be, or even what it wants to be. It isn't weird enough to qualify as a curiosity and nor is it interesting enough to give me a desire to understand it any more than I need to for the purposes of this review. It's an unclear answer to an opaque question.
There are definitely moments to be found that perhaps hint at what Lice were going for, like the fun transition from a melodic, upbeat riff into a martial rhythm in "Layers of Dirt" or the frequent shifting of styles in "Pride Eraser", but to be honest, most of the time the band seems to be more than happy to toil in amongst lightly distorted riffs of the strummed or arpeggiated variety that just aren't overly interesting. Think something somewhat akin to what Shining incorporates, but as the focal point instead. For a band whose stated mission is “to inflict unbearable pain, misery and suffering upon the repellent creation of God“, this sure is a tepid opening salvo in their cause.
Any issues I have with the music itself are utterly eclipsed by the issues I have with the vocal performance, though. Generally, I’m pretty partial to Niklas Kvarforth’s idiosyncratic vocal style in Shining, but his performance here is truly atrocious. During the album’s heavier moments Kvaforth’s style works as you would expect it to, but the bulk of the album is far softer, and his clean singing is offensively out of key more often than not, which further detracts from an experience that was already quite underwhelming to begin with.
Given a universe of infinite possibilities, it's conceivable that there's a Shining/Teitanblood convergence that is enjoyable and makes sense, but Lice ain't it.