Up until about a month ago, I had never heard Wo Fat. I was familiar with their name, and quite honestly, I was intimidated. I’ve already explained this to Kent Stump (guitars/vocals) of the band, so we’re all good there. I had some weird, preconceived notion that if I listened to Wo Fat, well . . . something violent would happen within my head, something unforeseen would damage my already damaged psyche and my personal End of Days would be right around the corner.
Actually, after having spent some time with the Wo Fatcatalog, I can’t dispute any of the above mentioned possibilities are out of the question.
Enough babble . . . on with The Black Code!
The latest Wo Fat release, as found on Small Stone Records, is a devastatingly heavy album. Where the previous album, Noche Del Chupacabra, was a heavy beast of a record, The Black Code up’s the game and redefines the word “heavy”. The production is a little crisper, and that adds a greater definition of the variety of tones that the band uses to convey their menace. The greater definition makes the cleaner portions of the music cleaner, therefore, when the heavy portions drop, it feels even more overwhelming than before. But none of the knob twiddling and sound engineering knowledge would mean shit if the music wasn’t up to par . . . and folks, The Black Code beyond par . . . it’s a hole-in-one, if you really want to follow a golf analogy!
The songs, while at times are marathon in length, they’re so well conceived and executed that they don’t feel like they’re as long as they are. The individual performances from the trio of musicians is top notch and, while the focus may be on the guitar heroics of Stump, the rhythm section of Tim Wilson (bass) and Mike Walter (drums) keeps this sludge-y, doom-y, Lords of All That Is Heavy sound moving in the right direction. Grok . . . to listen to the rhythm section alone is a lesson that every bassist and drummer should enroll in. This tandem kills it . . . every minute of every song . . . which allows Stump’s guitar work to soar to the heavens when he’s not following along the trail that’s being blazed ahead of him.
Opening the album with “The Lost Highway”, I was originally surprised that with the subtle injections of blues mixed in with groove. By no means was it a “bad” surprise, it just wasn’t what I was expecting and it was a welcome change from those preconceived notions that I had going into this record. The riffs follow aplenty and savagery of the rhythms make the body roll with the groove. Brutally heavy music, but done with class. It’s not heavy just for the sake of posturing and knuckle dragging Neanderthalic music fans . . . it’s heavy with a purpose and as a way of life. What could get lost if one’s not paying attention on this particular gem, is the bridge leading to the wah-ed out guitar solo. There’s a dynamic there, a building tension, and when that sucker breaks, it’s like dam busting open and getting caught up in the oncoming rush of water. Try to cling to the guitar solo for some buoyancy, but beware . . . the thundering crash of the rhythm section will try to break your grasp. Fucking great song!
The title track follows next, and for over ten minutes, you will be bombarded with a tune so finely crafted in the ways of the Heavy that it may go down as the blueprint for those who follow. The tone that Stump gets out of his rig is awesome, and I don’t mean the overused meaning of the word . . . you will truly find yourself sitting in front of your speakers with mouth agape and staring in wild wonder at how such a heft can come from an instrument . . . you will be in awe, ergo . . . his tone is awesome. Once the band kicks in and the trio is riffing in unison, damn, it’s an example of the fierceness that these guys can seemingly whip out without a thought. It feels natural and organic, nothing is forced, almost as if these guys are connected by the strain of DNA and they have become a living, breathing, riffing single entity. Again, the Wilson/Walter tandem hold a great groove in the mid-portion of the song while Stump goes absolutely nuts! Jesus . . . the sounds this guy gets from his guitar are insane! And, when the trio drop back into the main riff, the tempo goes up and it’s a stunning sensation . . .
Only five songs in length, but clocking in at over forty-five minutes, The Black Code is rife with sonic exploration and extended jams. Sit back and take the journey, man . . . and when you get to the album closer, “Sleep of the Black Lotus”, I’ll be here waiting to wax poetic about its brilliance. I’m thinking that this is my personal fave off the album, but I have a sneaking hunch that “The Shard of Leng” may be lurking in the shadows to usurp the closer from this temporary throne. “Black Lotus” is a gem of heavy rock . . . in fact, if you close your eyes and image hard enough, you can actually see someone chipping away at the edges of a piece of ore yanked unmercifully from the earth, and the gleaming radiance of the precious rock shining from the crud surrounding it. That’s how I hear this song . . . beauty and elegance wrapped in a shell of darkened, crusted matter.
Wo Fat may still be creeping around the underground, but don’t think that this creature of the depths won’t be pulling itself out of the muck to spend time in the sun. These guys are on the rise and The Black Code is the elevator that will lift them to a greater audience, a more receptive ear. It’s an album that just stuns with every listen, not just in song structure, but instrumental performances and sonic execution. With the year coming to a close, I suspect this album will be on my Year End Best Of List. I can’t see it not being there. The album was done so well that the music just can’t be ignored.