[Click play above to stream ‘Scum of the Earth’ by Wounded Giant. Vae Victis is out April 1 on STB Records.]
Translated from the Latin, the title of Wounded Giant‘s second long-player, Vae Victis, reads as ‘woe to the defeated.’ I’m not sure what contextually that might have to do with the image of Grigori Rasputin, whose wide-eyed glare haunts the mushroom-laden front cover of the regularly-topless Seattle band’s first full-length for STB Records, which arrives following their 2015 split with Goya (review here) on the same label and a self-released 2013 debut album, Lightning Medicine, unless they’re somehow making reference to the Russian Revolution, but if defeat is the theme throughout Vae Victis, the band seem to do an awful lot of conquering for it to work on a meta level.
Rather, from the nine-minute opening title-track — also the longest cut of the seven included (immediate points) — the three-piece stomp and chug their way triumphantly through a dense slog of riffly mud and Pacific Coast grode, gleefully coated in hesher grungus on the Matt Pike-schooled “Vae Victis” itself and all that follows, whether it’s the interlude “Emmanentize the Eschaton” with samples from the Jonestown death tape or the nodding groove they bring to the politically suspect and woefully catchy take on Devo‘s “Mongoloid” that closes. One does not imagine guitarist/vocalist Bobby James, bassist Dylan A. Rogers or drummer Alex Bytnar would be quick to claim any such victories unless perhaps the requisite trophy came coated in mud and had a statue on top flipping the bird, but the LP-limit-stretching 49-minute run of Vae Victis, produced by Billy Anderson and presented in STB‘s usual gorgeous array of limited and deluxe vinyl editions (one includes a ring), could easily put a few notches in its belt if it so chose.
To wit, Wounded Giant have their own nine-percent ABV beer courtesy of Oliver Brewing. Woe to your defeated liver.
The first line of the album? “I love corruption.” What unfolds from there in the title-cut — which includes its own translation — is a deceptive hook that arrives amid blown-out, riff-led sludge rock, somewhere between Sleep and High on Fire that establishes the tones but not necessarily the complete methodology or scope with which Wounded Giant will work on subsequent tracks. As an opener and accounting for roughly 20 percent of the album, though, its willful filth resounds amid all the drop-out-of-life proselytizing and increasingly harsh, noise-soaked paranoia, ending finally in a scream that gives way to the tom hits and rumble at the start of “Dystheist.”
Shorter, the second cut takes momentum from the end of “Vae Victis” and shoves it along via chugging guitar and double-kick from Bytnar, a more subdued vocal from James marking out a low-fuzzed verse that shifts into an explosive chorus, underlining an influence from thrash in its interplay between tension and release and leaving space in the second half for a guitar solo still too slow to call shredding but that gets the job done anyway and adds depth under the resurgent vocals as the apex hits.
An apparent drawdown is in the works, however, as the organ (or effects-guitar) of “Emmanentize the Eschaton” backs an even slower and even quieter launch for that four-plus-minute break, Wounded Giant moving toward the hypnotic perhaps in an effort to lull listeners into a false sense of security prior to the bludgeoning they’ll receive with centerpiece “Scum of the Earth” and “The Room of the Torch,” the two seven-minute slabs that follow. Either way, the Jonestown clips are manipulated for a suitably otherworldly feel and the ambience builds to some measure of payoff, though purposefully restrained.
Effectively so in making “Scum of the Earth” seem like a return to ground. Unless “Mongoloid” is a bonus track left off one or the other of the LP editions, I don’t know where the split between vinyl sides occurs, but presumably it’s “Scum of the Earth” starting side B, and if so, it seems fair to call the ensuing final four tracks of Vae Victis more straightforward than the first three, and as a (potential) second opener, “Scum of the Earth” sets that in motion. Rolling motion. Tense motion. Furious motion. The middle cut offers a hook and a payoff ending that make it a standout among its peer inclusions, again propelled by Bytnar‘s drumming, and the flow into the organ and tambourine intro of “The Room of the Torch,” over which James declares, “This is a love song,” before howling, is palpable; the groove of the subsequent track about as dug in as Wounded Giant get on their second outing. They execute it with a patience that seems far removed from “Dystheist,” but still maintain an energy especially in the later moments, the guitar working in some melody in a plotted lead over galloping kick and metallic winding basslines.
It comes apart at the end rather than claiming its ultimate victory — so close — but the slowdown into the post-Electric Wizard “Green Scar” is another marked win anyhow, with cleaner vocals and a grueling downer vibe that echoes some of what they did in the first half of the album without such a drastic departure in songwriting. As the last of the originals, “Green Scar” does right to finish with its chorus and a move into fading rumble and noise, as if to highlight the underlying core of structure that’s been at work on Vae Victis all along, if barely recognizable as such for the roughing-up it has received on an aesthetic level. “Mongoloid,” which was controversial upon its release in 1979, rounds out, and to their credit, Wounded Giant do well in recognizing what they can bring to its nodding rhythm tonally. I’m not sure they need it given the heavy lifting their own songs do in conveying their progression since the debut, but I doubt it’ll meet with much protest. Heavy Devo? Yeah, okay.
Across its two halves and six original inclusions, Vae Victis is quick to make a show of its corrosive aspects, but the ultimate story of the record is as much about what Wounded Giant accomplish in putting a spin on the churning semi-metal morass as it is about the thematic woes and defeats that may or may not outwardly define it. That duality can be heard in the interplay between songs on each side as well as in the fuckall that the trio proffer in their general attitude, but though it may seem incongruous at first, over repeat listens it provides Vae Victis with a depth that only makes the experience richer and more satisfying over a longer term. Wounded Giant are good at wallowing, in other words. They get sonic dirt under their fingernails and aren’t shy about putting it on display. And in so doing, they find a way to celebrate defeat without sacrificing the edge of loss amid the revelry.Seattle, STB Records, Vae Victis, Washington, Wounded Giant, Wounded Giant Vae Victis