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For being a relatively small state, Arkansas has an incredible metal scene. There are literally too many good bands to list, but without a doubt, one of the most prominent is Rwake. The six-piece outfit is signed to one of the biggest metal labels in the world — Relapse Records — and has played on some of metal's most coveted stages, including European festivals such as Roadburn and Hellfest, and will play at the upcoming Maryland DeathFest.
Rwake's records have earned rave reviews within metal circles, especially its last album, 2007's "Voices of Omens." The band's latest dirge-filled work is "Rest," due out Sept. 27. The album is incredible. It's a dense, sprawling masterpiece that deftly incorporates elements from across the metal spectrum while managing to sound like no other band. There are sludgy Southern doom riffs galore, screeching black metal sickness and spiraling dual-guitar harmonies reminiscent of New Wave of British Heavy Metal acts, all woven together into an indelible whole.
Vocalist Chris Terry — known to all as CT — handles much of the band's press. For the last album, that meant talking to every metal zine, website or blog that came calling. This time, he said, he's been primarily doing interviews with magazines, including all the usual metal suspects like Terrorizer, but also several European publications "that cover everything from pop to black metal."
Several weeks back, National Public Radio interviewed CT and posted a track from "Rest." And numerous websites — including the tastemaker geeks over at Pitchfork — have previewed tracks from the album, usually accompanied with a good degree of salivating over the prospects of a new Rwake album after four long years. So it seems like a pretty safe bet to say that "Rest" could very well be the album that catapults Rwake to an even greater level of popularity.
But don't expect that to translate into grueling, months-long tours. Most of the band members have day jobs and, more importantly, young'uns, which "changes everything, man," CT said. "There in the beginning we used to try to be diehard about it, but we've come to a point to where we've turned down so many good opportunities for the band that I'm numb to it, you know?" he said, laughing.
While having to turn down opportunities has surely caused some heartburn and grimaces, "I know where we're at and I know what we're doing," he said. "And at the same time, I have the satisfaction of knowing that lots of people want us to do lots of stuff that we don't do. It's not like we're not doing it because we can't. They want it and we're not giving it to them."
That said, "We're going to figure out ways to go to the coasts, and any time they offer us to go overseas, we'd probably drop everything and figure it out," he said.
With an album as incredible as "Rest," the opportunities will no doubt be forthcoming. The band plays White Water Tavern Sept. 21, then heads out to St. Louis, Chicago and Nashville.
One of Rwake's main influences is Oakland, Calif., stalwarts Neurosis, whose Black Flag meets Black Sabbath meets Pink Floyd sound has inspired countless devotees. But the Arkansas band isn't merely following in Neurosis' footsteps. Indeed, Rwake has grasped the baton from that band and is racing forward. Perhaps it follows, then, that one description that has often been applied to the band is the term "forward-thinking." That's definitely accurate, but Rwake has proved quite capable of stretching out in more than one direction at once. And although the band incorporates psychedelic and prog rock influences throughout its work, "Rest" is a capital "M" Metal record, sure to please underground freaks as well as those surface-dwellers who dug Metallica and Slayer back in the day. The latter's influence is particularly evident toward the end of the third track, "An Invisible Thread," which has a descending harmonic guitar figure that sounds somewhat like the distant, righteously stoned cousin of the one from "Raining Blood."
The first track, "Souls of the Sky," starts off with a trippy sounding acoustic guitar, flute (!) and some beautiful singing from Brittany Fugate, for a moment recalling of Six Organs of Admittance or maybe Bardo Pond. But then comes "It Was Beautiful But Now It's Sour," with an apocalyptic, crushing riff followed quickly by — and pardon the French, but there's just no other way this can be put — a fuckin'-A wicked solo that manages to sound foreboding and soulful all at once. And then CT starts singing backwards. Or his vocal track was played backwards. Either way, it sounds ungodly and awesome. Then there's singer-keyboardist-sample guru Fugate, whose vocals are angelic for those few brief moments of "Souls of the Sky," but for the bulk of the album sound like a gang of winged demons strafing a hapless victim as he lies helpless in a muddy ditch.
"The Culling" starts with a sample from the 1940s horror radio show Lights Out. A spooky church bell tolls, as the host slowly intones, "it is later than you think." That's followed by darkly hypnotic acoustic guitar with overlapping synthesizer and samples of what sound like random outer space noise and feedback. Check out the incredible solos that snake their way into "The Culling" around the 11:20 mark. At that point, the song still has damn near five minutes left to go. Aside from two brief interludes, "Rest" is essentially four songs ranging in length from nine to 16 minutes. It would be tempting to say that ADD listeners need not apply, but the songs on "Rest" are so fluid and ever-changing and effortless-seeming that even the shortest of attention spans won't be taxed.
The final number, "Was Only a Dream," is a 14-minute monster, highlighted by ferocious interplay between CT's thunderous bellowing and Fugate's soul-scarring howl, as well as numerous wailing solos and turn-on-a-dime dynamic shifts. Toward the end, the song seems to fade out with a beautiful acoustic guitar section. But then it morphs back to the massive riffola from whence it began, ending with another creepy sample.
It's been a long four years for Rwake fans, but "Rest" has proven to be well worth the wait.