It' now time for our 115th monthly CD review (and first of 2019) at The Sault Metal Scene, as we're looking at new local experimental/death metal solo project Awokest's new compilation "Enter the Nightlands"! Released on January 14th, this is the first paid album released under the Awokest banner, but it does follow last year's free YouTube-exclusive EP "The Tweakening", not to mention releases tied to Awokest or the project's alter-ego in the unfinished 12 EPs of Christmas series. This act is solely led by prolific local folk/metal musician Chase Wigmore, who uses the ribald alias "Dick Jerkins" here, but the stage name/alter ego isn't a tightly kept secret on the level of Dullahan. Presumably recorded at Clever Bastard Records,"Enter the Nightlands" is available on Bandcamp for $7 at this link, with physical copies not yet confirmed publically, and while you can stream the whole album for free there, consider buying it to support Chase's work!
Song names below are linked to their Bandcamp copies. Note that the vast majority of the songs on this album were previously released by Chase as part of other free and demo albums from his vast solo back catalog, typically under other project names, and they are credited as we go along. As best as I can tell, none are re-recordings. Also, Awokest have been advertised in the past as having various collaborators coming and going, but none are credited aside from "Dick" on Bandcamp. With 10 songs running for about 43 minutes in length, let's begin our review of "Enter the Nightlands"!
"Violent Fucking Energy", which was seen on Chase's album "Seven Curses" as "Violent Negative Energy". Opening with a catchy programmed drum beat that's soon joined by some sampled vocals and backing effects, the song proper takes on a steady industrial metal vibe that gives the vibe of a factory in motion. Despite the title implication, the song only really displays true violent energy for a brief dubstep-tinged stretch late. The song is an effective starter for the album, and showcases Chase's diversity well, but if you'd prefer something heavier and with vocals, you'll have to keep listening. Second is "Hit By A Truck", which was on his industrial project The Black Lodge Masters' album "Speed Demons" as "I Got Hit By A Truck Again".
This has a minimalist distorted quality as instruments trade off, with Chase talking in an ominous and harsh tone throughout. Awokest builds to a noiser and more chaotic crescendo, while maintaining the same laid back guitar riff throughout, which is effective in it's own way, though you never feel as though you were hit by a truck, a'la the title. Creative song while it lasts!
Third up is "Sacred Chaos", from Chase's "A Couple of Degenerate Bastards" split with Crucify the Whore. This has a very 1980s-sounding drum beat, industrial guitar riffs (arguably the heaviest on the album so far), and a lot of sampled audio, seemingly from news-centric interviews, but the distortion and guitar volume makes them very hard to decipher. Other than the sampling, this is a solid instrumental, with Chase's guitar riffing on full display, but the song felt like it was building to a chaotic onslaught that never came. That's followed by "The Tweakening", which was the opening track on last year's EP of the same name. The first true death metal song on the album, Chase lets loose with intense, Death-reminiscent blackened vocals, an assaulting guitar riff, solidly paced drum programming, and just enough distortion to take things over the line. The ending's too abrupt for my liking, but this will whet any death metal appetite!
"City of Shadows", which is the first song I can't find reference to on Chase's public back catalog. This more of a laid back number that lets Chase show off his guitar ability as set to sounds of the title city, especially ambulance sirens and indecipherable crosstalk. The contrast between Chase's excellent shredding, the pleasant backing music, and the backing effects is very well done, but as an instrumental showcase, I'd have boosted the guitar volume a little. Solidly done, and my favourite lead vocal-devoid song so far! Then we have "Haunted Jazz Machine", from The Black Lodge Masters' album "Dragon Coaster Mix". Calling this techno instrumental a "jazz" song is a stretch on the surface (you wouldn't hear this on 98.3 FM overnight), but it definitely feels haunted, with the machinery-like effects and deliberate pacing making up the difference. Very well programmed, fans of industrial-tinged electronica will enjoy this track, but if you want extreme metal, this won't do the job compared to other tracks.
Seventh is the other new track, "The Cosmic Joke", and after a two song instrumental detour, the vocally-led death metal returns here, and this is a strong showcase of Chase's multi-instrumental skills, with some strong guitar work and effective bass! My big problem with the song is the mixing, as the vocals are too buried for my liking (especially compared to Awokest's live jam of this song), and the guitar track doesn't pop either, especially during the solo late, where the screaming vocals are ironically too high. The metal on display is effective, but I wish the mix accentuated that more. Next is "Nightshift", from Chase's solo album "The Good, The Bad, and The Strange." This is an ominous mid-tempo song that's punctuated by alternating monotone vocals and painful background screaming, until Chase lets loose with a strong guitar solo that's fits the song's pace well. The distortion works well late, and this song is nicely composed, but there wasn't a killer hook.
"Black Lodge Masters" (also from "A Couple of Degenerate Bastards"), which is named after Chase's past moniker for industrial solo music. In spite of that, this isn't as industrially focused as a song like "Haunted Jazz Machine" with Chase shredding overtop of the percussion and backing effects, with distorted sampled audio referencing "the gods of chaos" sprinkled in between. The song proper ends in a darker techno vibe, almost like an avalanche hits at the end. Solid track for what it is, and while not a death metal blitz, it covers some wide ground! The album closes with the 10+ minute long "Opening The Gates Of Yoss Merrrto", from The Coyote Speedfreaks' "Songs To Chew Your Leg Off To". A slowly paced and ominous techno song, the instrumentation builds well into it's midpoint, eventually taking on an ethereal chant essence, and a heavy focus around the drum track, hitting it's heaviest point near the end.
I applaud Chase for keeping this song varied and interesting (Yoss Merrrto definitely isn't a boring place to visit!), and while the lengthy instrumental may be trying for some novice listeners, it's an entertaining capper to the album that showcases his rock-tinged industrial creativity! If only the song didn't end so abruptly, but he made the most of the 10 minutes!
So, what are my final thoughts on Awokest's first paid album? Despite primarily existing as a compilation for prior songs, this is a nice cross-section of Chase's dark, heavy, and industrial material for new fans, and it showcases his creativity and talents well! Existing fans of his studio material and live shows know his intense and skilled acoustic guitar work, but here, you get a sense of his varied musical tastes apart from electric instruments and programming, and while the album is very uneven in tone, there's a little something for any fan of extreme metal and industrial techno here. Honestly, I was surprised at how much instrumental electronic music was here given Awokest's prior hints towards being a fuller death metal project, but with only two (or less?!) songs here being visibly new recordings, maybe that'll come with time. Myself, I liked "The Tweakening", "City of Shadows", and "Opening The Gates Of Yoss Merrrto" the most, but there's a lot of good moments.
The uneven mixing and production should be evened out when we next see a full studio album of new material under the Awokest banner, and whether you're a new fan of that project or a long-time follower of Chase's repertoire, "Enter The Nightlands" is a worthy listen to see what he's been up to musically in recent years, and a likely window to the future! Give it a listen or buy it above, and I hope you guys liked this month's album review! So, what is being reviewed on the site next month? At the moment, I do not know, and I can't confirm if our year+ streak of new album reviews will continue either. Our next review will not be of an album by SweetKenny or Sykotyk Rampage due to our 6 month anti-bias buffer, I know that much. We'll dip into the archives if nothing brand new is released for sale by the end of February, but stay tuned for more on that when it comes out, and for this weekend's concert previews on the site tomorrow! Thanks everyone!