Wage War – Manic (Album Review)

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I’m fairly ashamed to say that whilst Wage War has been constantly on my radar, I never put a couple of hours aside to sit down and go through the discography until only recently. It’s taken me a while, and that could be for a bunch of reasons: worrying that the band wouldn’t match up to the insane hype surrounding them, taking friends’ recommendations with a pinch of salt, or even just letting the tracks go by on social media without engaging, like waves at the beach you decided not to surf.

After going through the discography, really diving deep into it, it’s pretty effortless to put forward the argument that Wage War is one of the best and most dominating metalcore bands in the world at the moment. 2015’s “Blueprints” was about as polished and established as any band would like their debut album to be; I kept checking to make sure I hadn’t missed any releases that could have come before that (not counting “The Fall of Kings” EP during their time as Empires). “Deadweight” (2017) contains gorgeous gems such as “Don’t Let Me Fade Away” and “Gravity, yet smacks harder than your grandma’s wooden spoon with tracks like “Stitch”, or “Disdain” which has a special place in my heart due to its skull-crushing “Iowa”-era Slipknot influences.

2019 was a bloody good year for Wage War’s fans with the release of “Pressure”. Notably lighter than the previous albums, it caught some listeners off guard. It expressed the band’s intention of wanting to branch out and move towards something that spoke to them. “Grave” and “Me Against Myself” are much more pop-infused than usual, yet “Ghost” and the massive track “Low” both hark back to the old and ferocious ways of the band.

Now… here we are, all together, ready to sit down and check out the 5-piece’s latest offering, “Manic”. Wage War had no changes in their line-up, and so it’s easy to imagine the camaraderie that exists between the members, especially during the writing process in which they bunkered down mid-pandemic in a cabin to create this album. This 11-track exposition into the world’s various detrimental components is a tall drink in a time of great thirst. It’s no secret that isolation has been pretty tough on a lot of people, and this album is undoubtedly the sonic representation of being sick to death of it.

If you guessed that the Florida quintet would begin “Manic” with more aggression than an Orangutan during mating season, then you’re 100% correct. We’re given about 10 seconds before a huge bouncing rhythm in “Relapse” opens the floodgates to let the rest of the album in.

Just as always, Andrew Wade and Jeremy McKinnon (A Day to Remember) did an incredible job producing the album. Each of Wage War’s albums have been produced impeccably well by the duo, but ‘Manic‘ allows the listener to hear every single thing that’s happening in the mix. This is more important than ever for the band, as they have really begun to incorporate some interesting and complex layers into their composition. “Teeth”, the third single to be released off of this album, is a great example of the clarity. The violent introduction is an explosion of sound pointed directly at the listener, and in this cacophony you can hear everything from a scratch track-like layer following the kick drums, to the cymbals diligently creating the ceiling on which everything frantically ricochets off of. The mix clarity is almost exhausting in that during the whole album you’re constantly noticing things that weren’t there a second ago. Being exhausted in this way is certainly a compliment. Even the bass guitar, which Chris Gaylord flawlessly performs, is there to be noticed whether you like it or not. You can hear him running through the same chaotic sequences and riffs played by the guitars, and even in “Never Said Goodbye” the twangy instrument is being strummed away passionately, right alongside the acoustic guitars.

What’s fulfilling about “Manic” is that the band has capitalized on their confidence to try new things the way they did in “Pressure”, but still proudly hold the ability to gravitate back to their super heavy tendencies when they desire. Title track “Manic” is probably the best demonstration of this. The introduction and verses are more likely to be found on a Soundcloud rapper’s EP, yet the heaviness comes back faster than lightning with ‘manic’ being screamed like a war cry. The difference between music styles here is about as stark as you can get without going too eccentric or gimmicky, and this knowledge of ‘when and where’ is wielded wisely throughout the release.

“Manic” Album Artwork

Some quite beautiful tracks are present on “Manic” that appear to have the same kind of personality as those like “Will We Ever Learn” on “Pressure” or “Johnny Cash” on “Deadweight”. “Circle the Drain”, track 5 on the new album, fits this description, sounding similar in a way to Bring Me the Horizon during their “Sempiternal” album. “If Tomorrow Never Comes” is an astounding track, which ends in a beautiful interstellar fashion that’s easy to float around and get lost in.

Don’t worry, though. If you just want some good old fashioned Wage War, nothing new and fancy, they’ve got you covered… and then some. The breakdown in “Relapse” is honestly disgusting, and I mean that in the most endearing and loving way possible. “High Horse” is 2 minutes and 48 seconds of unbridled energy that makes the Energizer Bunny look tired. “Death Roll” had me pulling some faces of horror and amazement. I expected breakdowns to be thrown at me left, right and centre, but most certainly did not expect the super entertaining guitar solo from lead guitarist Seth Blake.

Briton Bond has not withered in his savagery as the band’s vocalist. His ability to clearly pronounce his words has me thoroughly impressed, and it massively helps in driving home the lyrical themes that he puts out to the listener. The variance he displays is really fun to listen to, and it sounds like he’s really put the hours and dedication in to refining the techniques that he began to employ on “Deadweight” and “Pressure”. For me, this is emphasized greatly in “True Colours”, which is unfortunately not a cover of Cindy Lauper’s classic. I’ll still take it, though. It’s a cracker of a track.

Speaking of changing things up… in “Teeth”, Bond brings out the David Draiman in him, letting out a rabid ‘agh, agh’, which will almost certainly transport nu-metal fans back to the immortal track “Down With the Sickness” by Disturbed.
High Horse” has to be one of my favourite performances from Bond. It’s so full of rage, and I truly think that he has taken the vocals of Slipknot’s Corey Taylor during the “We Are Not Your Kind” and “Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses” albums and turned it up a notch to accentuate his own unique brand of vicious vocals. The pre-chorus build up even reminds me of Slipknot’s iconic “Before I Forget”, but beefed up and intensified.

The clean vocals belted out by rhythm guitarist Cody Quistad have always been pitch perfect, polished and primed for big and overwhelming choruses. You could say that any metalcore band his this standard scream/sing combination going on, but the way Quistad’s silky yet metallic voice bounces off of Bond’s growls is different, and it just works in a symbiotic way that other bands seem to be able to pull off only at a rudimentary level. Quistad glows and reverberates across “Manic”. “Slow Burn” has a simple yet instantly memorable chorus that I was humming to the eventual ire of my colleagues at work. “Never Said Goodbye” is a gentle track, for the most part, and it seems to present itself as a spotlight focused on appreciating Quistad and his wonderful contribution to the sound of Wage War. The chorus is about as huge as it could be, and it also serves as a nice little palate cleanser that feathers the brakes on an album that’s been essentially relentless up until this point.

Seth Blake and Cody Quistad absolutely crushed the guitar duties on “Manic”. The guitar is more a concept than an instrument on this record. It takes so many shapes and forms within such a short time. The beginning of “Godspeed”, a track that has huge Beartooth qualities to it, begins with something that sounds more like a robot or a chainsaw than a guitar. “Teeth” holds some alien sounds behind the vocals in the verses, but explode forth in the choruses to play a glimmering accompaniment to Quistad’s vocal melody.

Acoustic guitars also make an appearance on this record, and their presence doesn’t feel out of place in the slightest, despite how evil the majority of this album sounds. Don’t hate me, but the acoustic guitar performance in “Never Said Goodbye” immediately reminded me of mid 2000’s Nickelback, and I don’t care what you say but mid 2000’s Nickelback was bloody great and I’ll defend this statement to the death.
 Digressions aside… the acoustic guitars are strummed with gusto, and this really helps to widen and embolden the atmosphere on a track that’s considerably softer in comparison to the rest of “Manic”. Speaking of gusto, Blake’s shimmering guitar solo on “Never Said Goodbye” deserves a standing ovation for its personality which perfectly suits the track.

Stephen Kluesener, if you read this, just know I love you. Kluesener’s percussive performance on “Manic” is precisely what was needed to bring it all home for the band. The drums are oppressive and dominant in every way, without punching through the mix obnoxiously. There is this sense of mightiness and confidence in that Kluesener doesn’t show off, but competently handles some complex and blistering rhythms. It feels like the purpose for the drums in “Manic” is to emphasise and carry the weight of the musical ideas being expressed by the rest of the band, and it’s not a light weight to carry… at all.
There are some nice variations on the sound of the drums at certain points in the album. The snare drum echos into oblivion during “True Colours” towards the end, making the soundscape feel even deeper and denser than usual. The metallic ‘ping’ put on top of each snare hit in the final breakdown to “Death Roll” is something that I just can’t get enough of. I’ll mention this little musical technique every chance I get; it’s a simple yet hugely effective method of completely transforming the personality of the percussion, even just for a moment. Employed To Serve made use of this idea in their recent album on the track “World Ender”, as did Chelsea Grin on the track “Hostage”. Again; simple, yet effective.

In 36 minutes, Wage War have shown us how far they have progressed as musicians, and as a tight-knit group. The collective decision by the band to find the perfect balance between the ravenous nature of their early albums, and the experimental intentions of “Pressure”, was perfectly executed. What results is a destructive and captivating curation of tracks that leave you full to the brim of energy, and just as full of memorable melodies that are sure to be a mainstay in your memory. The album feels like it begins and finishes before you know it, but they do say that time flies when you’re having fun. This is Wage War’s strongest release yet, and I’m more than confident that long-time and recent fans are going to be ecstatic about “Manic”.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go run through a brick wall whilst listening to “Death Roll”.

Releasing On: October 1st2021
Released By: Fearless Records
Genre: Metalcore

Musicians:

  • Briton Bond / Vocals
  • Seth Blake / Lead Guitar
  • Cody Quistad / Rhythm Guitar/Clean Vocals
  • Chris Gaylord / Bass
  • Stephen Kluesener / Drums

“Manic” Tracklist:

  1. Relapse
  2. Teeth
  3. Manic
  4. High Horse
  5. Circle the Drain
  6. Godspeed
  7. Death Roll
  8. Slow Burn
  9. Never Said Goodbye
  10. True Colors
  11. If Tomorrow Never Comes

8.6 Excellent

"Manic" is Wage War's finest release, hands down. The band has stepped up their game in every respect, and did not overstay their welcome. 36 minutes is all it takes for the band to provide us with an incredible collection of metalcore that is as merciless in its delivery as it polished in its production. It's going to be hard for Wage War to top this album, both in musical fortitude and raw emotional power. With that being said, they have a good thing going, and I have complete faith in them.

  • Songwriting 8.5
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 8
  • Production 9
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