Canada’s WAKE have never been a band interested in repeating themselves, this abundantly apparent from their discography, having evolved with every release. 2020’s Devouring Ruin made this more clear than ever, hammering the point home with the Confluence EP in the same year, and now they return with Thought Form Descent, their most dynamic, diverse and emotional release to date. “I’d describe the record as a place to reconsider what ‘extreme’ means. The words ‘brutal’, ‘crushing’, ‘devastating’ are overused adjectives for extreme music. We wanted to force people to confront the idea that ‘brutal’ or ‘extreme’ ideas aren’t just blastbeats or angular tritones, or, more importantly, ‘brutal’ elements alongside pointedly passive elements can create their own experience that can channel both and neither.” The result is eight nuanced tracks that run the gamut from relentlessly heavy to exquisitely beautiful, often simultaneously, and instantly grab hold of the listener, demanding their full attention. However, at the same time, they are lushly textured and densely layered, and offer more with every subsequent exposure, unfurling to show hidden depths, and taking WAKE to a whole new level.
Having been forced to scrap touring plans for Devouring Ruin due to the coronavirus pandemic, the band instead went straight to work on Confluence, and as soon as that was finished they started on Thought Form Descent, not pausing between releases. Writing so much over a relatively short period of time absolutely affected the approach to the latest record. “It was definitely on everyone’s mind that we needed some new elements. It was never clear how or why, but I think the idea of repeating the same ideas again, within the same calendar year, was just too boring to consider. When you’re in the process of fleshing out the reasonably intensive process of finishing a record you tend to over-analyze every tiny variable, but in retrospect we definitely had conversations about new levels, new textures, and new arrangements.” Being in ‘the zone’ definitely helped the band to write, but at the same time they recognized that there were downsides to this. Having been writing so consistently and with few breaks, the members realized that just letting songs flow naturally would result in producing the same song over and over again. “There was a distinct effort to force the issue and disrupt our process. It was time for ultimatums. There were a fair few slowdowns and puzzling moments to overcome as we adjusted from what felt natural to what we suspected, objectively, was better.”
The title Thought Form Descent comes from the idea of creating “a sort of labyrinth within the mind and manifesting it into physical reality, and descending into it”, which ties into the lyrics, vocalist Kyle Ball this time taking a different approach to writing. “Instead of using my personal issues as the focal point I wrote a non-linear fiction story that focuses on escapism and existentialism. I do incorporate personal issues/experiences into the plot of the story, the character could more or less be me, but it’s definitely more embellished than my usual writing, with it focusing more on the story than it does on myself.” The basic plot is about a character who is faced with his own insignificance, and who finds himself at odds with waking life and discovers a greater meaning in the unknown. Through the means of lucid dreaming, meditation and altered states, he travels to places unknown and for better or worse discovers what is behind the doors of reality. On “Mourning Dirge (Repose of the Dead)” the character “who has come to odds with life after a near death experience that had seemed to reveal another plane of existence or something greater, delves into a world of altered states and discovers he can reach something similar to what he experienced near death. He becomes enamored with the idea that something else exists, and starts falling deep into the well of obscurity.” Then, on “Infinite Inward” the character “at this point, lost between whatever is considered reality and places traveled, incorporates a meditation ritual called ‘the digging method’. Through that method he creates a sort of both physical and metaphysical labyrinth that the majority of the remaining story will take place in.” With “Venerate (The Undoing of All)”, the character “confused over whether the astral self or physical self is the true existence, finds himself at battle within two conscious states which are tearing between two realities. Ultimately, trying to undo both into absolute nothingness and ceasing to exist entirely.”
To track the album, the band once again collaborated with Dave Otero (Allegaeon, Cattle Decapitation) at Flatline Audio in Denver, CO. “Dave is someone who does something we love – supersedes what people think of him. Sure, he recorded many successful death metal albums, but his ability to understand pop music and its composition, his knowledge of music theory and his willingness to get right into the movement of a song and its chord progressions, not just the riffs, are things that go way beyond ‘death metal’. He can make hard right turns into wildly different sonic territory without batting an eyelash, and he always has an idea during the deviation, too. He contributed a lot to this record.” Having prepared exhaustively in advance, once in the studio the band were able to try new things, play with ideas and rearrange songs, having the time to go down the proverbial rabbit hole and see where it took them. Kevin Hufnagel of Gorguts also makes an appearance, playing guitar on “Pareidolia” and “Observer To Master”, the latter track one of the most melodic on the record.
At this stage WAKE are happy to have plans to return to the road, with two albums’ worth of material that has yet to be played live, and they are comfortable with where they stand and the role they play in 2022. “The challenges we present listeners with are simple, but cumulatively, they sum to something difficult to categorize without serious mental acrobatics. I think many bands have very specific goals, and I think that’s certainly a product of the current state of the music industry and society in general. WAKE works hard to be subversive in ways you might not notice initially, and that’s one of the things that makes us vital – not being afraid to sacrifice short-term gains in order to build an output which stays consistent amidst many surface-level changes. That way, any territory we see fit to mine will still remain familiar, despite the aesthetic changes. As an ethos, this is a stark contrast from most metal artists today, who generally seek to be ‘best in class’ for their specific genre. Our sound will always lurk between any sonic element we introduce, no matter the genre, tempo or timbre.”