Review Summary: The crowning jewel of Warbringer’s back catalogue.
It wasn’t too long ago that Warbringer were facing an untimely end- despite releasing some stellar modern thrash albums, fans didn’t warm to previous album IV: Empires Collapse and a revolving cast of band members had crippled Warbringer to the brink. Thankfully having established a solid lineup by 2016, Warbringer have taken the bit between their teeth and have never sounded more invigorated. Perhaps realising the often fleeting and tumultuous nature of being a metal band has given Warbringer a brand new perspective, as Woe To The Vanquished is brimming with thrash excellence and ambitious grandeur as though the band treated the album like their last.
Storming out the gates with the twisting lead riffs of “Silhouettes” is a gnarly statement of intent as dark riffs and pounding rhythms cut with ferocious precision. Guitarists Adam Carroll and Chase Becker know how to craft a mean thrash riff (backed by some powerful bass work) that packs punch and crunch in equal measure and inject an element of adrenaline to vocalist John Kevill’s maniacal delivery. His shrieks and barks are delightfully dramatic, yet have enough grit to them that he never veers off in a ridiculously overblown way- which helps when he deals with more serious lyrical matter (particularly with the album’s finale, but more on that later). His infectious enthusiasm for military history is all over the lyrics that you can tell he’s lovingly crafted into catchy and highly memorable couplets. This really adds to the supercharged blasting and frantic riffing of tracks like the title track or “Shellfire”. However, these aren’t just straight forward thrash-by-number affairs as there’s haunting black metal flourishes and flailing guitar work that embellishes each track immensely.
When Warbringer aren’t penning anthems that would make Slayer blush, they show an understanding of dynamics and tempos that result in some slower but equally satisfying tunes. “Remain Violent” is a mid-paced stomper with grooves and duelling solos that is destined to grind necks and raise air guitars in glorious fervour, whilst the ominous sway of “Spectral Asylum” has a certain evil majesty that is just irresistible. Undoubtedly the pinnacle of Woe To The Vanquished is the eleven minute closer “When The Guns Fell Silent”. Split into five movements, this blackened thrash masterpiece is packed with Siegfried Sassoon spoken word sections, frosty riffs, brooding clean guitars and an emotive crescendo that showcases a maturity and ambition to the band’s songwriting, which serves as a fitting eulogy to the lost soldiers of World War One.
Each track across the album comes with its own character and identity that allows for a well-rounded and rewarding listen, from the scathing high register tremolo fury of “Divinity Of Flesh” to the breakneck mosh extravaganza of “Descending Blade” (which has a brilliantly tongue in cheek ending). Clocking in at 40 minutes and consisting of just 8 tracks, Warbringer have trimmed away any potential fat to make a thrash album that perfectly balances the lean, muscular riffs and rhythms that characterises this brand of metal with an ambition to produce more than just meat-and-potatoes metal. Blending black metal’s sonic evil and death metal’s frenetic savagery has bolstered Warbringer’s already darker take on thrash metal into more sinister territories, and they sound rejuvenated for it. If you’ve felt that Slayer’s last few albums were somewhat lacklustre, or that too many bands are straightforward in their approach, then there is plenty on Woe To The Vanquished to sink your teeth into.