WYW is an hour-long exercise in juxtapositional strategy.
There’s an eerie silence in the middle of “Iron Rose,” the third song on Wear Your Wounds’ debut LP, that splits the song into a contemplative, melodic first half and a plodding, cantankerous second. It’s this juxtaposition of opposites that reveals itself as a driving force of the record. It’s as if Jacob Bannon, the vocalist for Converge who’s behind Wear Your Wounds, structured the album in order to force the listener off balance for the duration and ensure a few mental scars in the process.
In fact, WYW is an hour-long exercise in juxtapositional strategy. The ebb and flow is partially due to its pairing of quiet/loud dynamics and positive/negative lyrics across the album, whether it’s a seemingly abrupt lyrical mood shift within a single song (“Shine”), or the sequencing of the lovely piano instrumental “Hard Road to Heaven” next to the intensely pulsing and abrasive “Best Cry of Your Life.”
But the pairing of opposites isn’t the defining trait of the record; instead, it’s the pacing. Bannon has built a deliberately molasses-paced world designed to fully envelop the listener in its anguish. Nearly every decision is in service to this: Mournful, exhausted vocals (sometimes buried in the mix); lumbering and tumbling drums; creepy, haunting piano; and beautifully wandering guitar leads for minutes at a time. Even the lyrics evoke hard-fought lessons: “So choke back all the tears we’ve shed and carry on/ Where there is will, that’s where we belong” and “Sooner or later, every flame burns out/ Without the fuel siphoned from our hearts.”
While Bannon wrote and arranged everything, he invited some friends to share performance duties. Much of the record revolves around a core trio comprised of Bannon, Chris Maggio and Mike McKenzie. (Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou appears on a handful of tracks, as well.) Given the nature of the project, these picks might scan as odd choices on the surface for an introspective post-metal record. Maggio has played in a handful of hardcore bands—including Trap Them and Coliseum—over the years, while McKenzie’s best known as the lead guitarist in deathgrind stalwarts the Red Chord. A closer look at their respective work, however, reveals Bannon’s logic. Maggio’s restless fills and elephantine stomping speak for themselves. Meanwhile, McKenzie’s work in TRC, as well as his own death-doom project Stomach Earth, displays his gift for off-center and nauseous, yet somehow uplifting, psychedelic leads.
And it’s those leads that are a highlight of the album. McKenzie’s guitar work throughout is as much of a star as Bannon’s purposefully dense arrangements. “Breaking Point,” for example, sees McKenzie’s sorrowful guitar desperately searching for a resolution in the melody throughout the song. Similarly, McKenzie’s work on “Iron Rose”’s second half attempts to free itself from Maggio’s whirlpool drumming without being sucked in by soaring over the sonic vortex.
Still, WYW is Bannon’s show. That the record has been in gestation for almost a half-decade is rather fitting. Given the plodding, slow-crawl nature of the record, writing and recording in a protracted manner only makes sense. WYW is self-indulgent almost to a fault, but that’s the point. Bannon draws everything out—at times to patience-testing durations—making for an exhausting listen from start to finish in one sitting. Yet, there’s a hypnotic feeling from all the relentless bludgeoning of repetition. At the end, you almost feel as if you’ve learned something by fighting through it all and coming out in one piece on the other side.
Which brings us back to hard-fought advice. Appropriately enough, the album is bookended with the lyrics “Your scars tell the story/ Remind you of who you’ve been/ You’ve worn those wounds/ To hell and back again” and “Thank you for all of the lessons that you taught me/ And thank you for all of the shit that you gave me”. It’s clear from the outset that Bannon wants to make abundantly clear to the listener that the most important lessons you learn in life are forged from some kind of pain or suffering. Hell, just look at the name.