Album Review: Wage War – ‘STIGMA’

Posted: by The Editor

At a certain point, the metalcore bands of the early-to-mid-2010s all decided there were only two viable routes if they planned to continue existing after about 2015: go full-on radio-rock or go full-on nu-metal. Wage War, a five-piece metalcore band from Ocala, FL, approaches this conundrum with an interesting perspective on their fifth LP: why not both? As a result, STIGMA ends up feeling confusing and disjointed; rather than offering something for everyone, there’s little here to satisfy longtime fans or to entice new listeners.

The band has said that “HAPPY HUNTING” was their first step into this new industrial direction; it was not an auspicious start. It blends dance beats with a half-chanted, half-growled cadence from Briton Bond, making for a jarring combination. It doesn’t help that Bond’s voice is pitched extremely low, a frequent occurrence throughout STIGMA; the intention is, presumably, to sound more sinister, keeping in line with the album’s darker industrial sound, but he comes off sounding like a parody of YouTube metal-rap artist Corpse. Nearly a third of the songs on STIGMA employ this technique, and it is unsuccessful every time; it derails the otherwise engaging chorus of “SELF SACRIFICE,” a song that does deftly deploy industrial elements into the band’s metalcore sound and easily ranks among their best.

It’s never more egregious than on single “NAIL5,” on which he raps the chorus in his ghoulishly down-tuned voice. It is, to Wage War’s credit, the song that comes closest to answering the question that served as their thesis statement for STIGMA: “What would all of those ’90s industrial nu metal bands sound like in 2024?” Unfortunately, it also serves as a reminder as to why those bands are no longer making music in 2024. Bond’s rapping is unfortunate, and Cody Quistad’s brief turn at the mic during the song’s first verse fares no better.

“IN MY BLOOD” is a perfect down-the-middle blend of Sirius Octane radio rock and Warped Tour metal, with a few electronic glitches thrown into its intro for good measure. Similarly, isolate Quistad’s vocals in the chorus of the atmospheric “BLUR” and you’d think you’re listening to a Top 40 hit. There are ways to integrate pop into metalcore successfully, but the song feels too unsure of itself to commit to either the tunefulness of its hook or the brutality of its breakdown. “HELLBENT” opens with a plaintive guitar line that would feel at home on an Imagine Dragons song before launching into a creaky hard rock riff; other songs forgo the metal almost altogether, although rarely to much more inspired results.

The album’s finale “IS THIS HOW IT ENDS” is memorable with its stratospheric chorus and cinematic production but relies too heavily on the dissonance between that openness and the requisite Bond vocal cameo in the bridge; it could be an interesting choice to hinge an album closer on that sort of unresolved tension, but after about two lines Bond fades away as quickly as he popped up. Lead single “MAGNETIC,” too, only ever treats him like an accent, allowing him to croak out a mosh call before thrusting Quistad back into the spotlight for the song’s final chorus. While, as ever, his vocal runs are impressive and his melodies are catchy, the song feels too formulaic, too predictable, to hit the way it’s supposed to; that last chorus is telegraphed from the start, the keys dripping in added right on cue to hit you in the heartstrings. Admittedly, at least there’s something to be said for the band knowing exactly how they want you to feel listening to “MAGNETIC.” The same can’t be said for most of STIGMA. It doesn’t sound like Wage War knows whether or not they want you throwing fists in the pit or throwing up your white lighters; they’re stuck between two modes, stuck staring at two potential paths forward, and what they’ve settled on is the least compelling version of themselves.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Stigma is out Friday on Fearless Records.

Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison

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