- From Ashes
- Lost in Apathy
- Chaos Theory
- On Broken Wings
- Amber Alert
- Still Small Voice
For just over ten years now War of Ages has proven themselves time and again as a pinnacle band in the heavy metal/progressive metal scene. From the early days of their independent release through their self-titled album on Strike First, and all the way up to 2010’s monumental Eternal, it seemed that WOA only got better and better with time. Even tracks that were reused across albums were given a nice fresh coat of polish that breathed new life into them. However, as I noted two years ago, Return to Life, though a solid album by all rights, seemed to see War of Ages possibly running low on steam as the sum total of the experience was merely a statistical average of the band’s total body of work.
What I felt that album most lacked was any real deviation from the norm. Leroy and company have gotten supremely good at what they do, but Return to Life left me, even as a long time fan, a little flat. Though some powerhouse songs like “Silent Night” made it into my rotation for a while, on the whole the album simply faded to the background for me. So, when the guys announced Supreme Chaos, I was cautiously optimistic. Sporting a cover that looks cannily like the scene depicted on their Pride of the Wicked album (except with lions called into the fray and a different color scheme… and yes, I realize all of their albums have the same basic theme/look, but put the two side by side and see), and at least one track with similar titles (compare “Rise from the Ashes” with the opening track “From Ashes”), Supreme Chaos really is a chance for WOA to prove themselves anew. Add to this the fact that, as I’ve noted repeatedly, Facedown Records has had a mammoth run of excellent albums of late, and Supreme Chaos possibly has bigger shoes to fill than any of their past releases as the now veteran band has to prove themselves amongst their peers, as well as prove to fans that they still have something unique to offer.
Luckily, the Old Faithful of the heavy metal world is back in the saddle. Brining in some much more varied and nuanced sounds – almost taking a similar route as Demon Hunter did with their recent doom metal turn on Extremist – WOA hones in on a sound that finds itself venturing into the often discordant directions of “fresh” and “classic” and yet the album still manages to bring their signature sound. Ever present across all of their body of work, the themes of redemption, spiritual battle, doubt breaking on the shores of Christ’s love, and the like continue the threads woven brilliantly through each of the band’s releases. With Supreme Chaos guitarist Jack Daniels of Hope for the Dying joins the band, bringing a new layer of texture to the guitar work and production. The sound blends the strengths of War of Ages with a harmonious Euro-metal layering that really complements both elements well.
Album Breakdown: The album begins with “From Ashes,” a great pick to kick things off with style. “From Ashes” feels as though it could fit on any of the band’s discography in all the right ways, and yet it is a stand-out track all to its own. From the battle-worn cries of “can you hear the beating of my heart?” to the inspiring guitar work that channels the best of Eternal and brings it forward with four years of polish, “From Ashes” is exactly what you’d hope for in a WOA intro track. Simply put, it starts things off with a bang and draws you in immediately. The thematic elements are common to the overarching themes of past albums, but this serves to connect the listener with past work while also preparing them for the brutality that is to come.
“Lost in Apathy” begins to change things up with some more varied guitars slowly working their way in and a nice focus on the skilled and powerful percussion work. Vocally, Leroy brings his distinct guttural sound mixed with more melodic (yet never truly “clean”) vocals. Thematically, “Lost in Apathy” fittingly shows a reaching out to God tempered with a doubt that He could save such a broken sinner. This discordant strand is shown as Leroy moves from “not even God can save me…” through to a resolved “we will fight. We are the voice of a generation.” The last quarter of the song begins to bring in a more European flavor to the guitar work. This is not completely uncommon to WOA’s style, but works to bring in that needed variety that moves through the remainder of the album.
“Doomsday,” fittingly to the name, tempers in some doom and European metal elements as the lyrics directly take on the spirit presented in the previous track. Where as “Lost in Apathy” closes with a spirit that is antagonistic to truth (repeating the “not even God can save me” line), “Doomsday” points out “the father of lies” behind such a spirit. I’ve mentioned the new guitarist and his effect on the overall album. This influence becomes incredibly apparent starting with this track. “Doomsday,” aside from being an amazing song, is the perfect song for showcasing how the new styling on the guitars can seamlessly blend with that distinct WOA sound to create something even more textured and layered than before.
“Chaos Theory” follows and brings a much more… well nothing better to say to describe it than “chaotic” mixture to the table. The lyrics “we are the broken” breaks before the weight of the band’s promise of “we won’t believe you are hopeless, praying for you with tongues of fire…you were loved at your first breath.” In this, “Chaos Theory” brings an anthemic track that begins a path of uplifting power with a Spirit-filled tinge to it that carries into many of the following songs. Musically, “Chaos Theory” amps things up even more to bring one of the most layered experiences on the album.
“Lionheart” takes the anthemic nature of “Chaos Theory” and takes it to 11. “I scream out Your name… here is your chance to set this wold on fire… realize you were meant for so much more… we are the chosen… with the heart of a lion… I scream out Your name, hear me.” If there ever was a track that was the epitome of what War of Ages is about, this is it. No questions asked. From start to finish is it uplifting, prayerful, battle music that perfectly encapsulates the spiritual war depicted on the Quiggle drawn cover and translates that into a machismo that resonates into your very spirit. Lionheart continues to blend the new technical edge in with the guitars, but it is the apex of what the band has been proclaiming for over a decade now. This is the band’s new theme song, bar none.
“On Broken Wings” forges ahead into the battle depicted through the previous tracks, but shifts the focus over to God delivering us from the sting of our enemies. “Why am I afraid of the fall… I would die to be in Your arms… break free from your idols, break free from your fear… So shall I be saved from my enemies. The sorrows of death surround me, I cry out for You.” These last lines repeat throughout the track until they create a resonance in the listener’s soul, continuing to prepare us for battle in our spirits. Once again a stand out guitar/drum spot is placed in the last 1/4 of the song that helps to even further amp the track and bring depth to the album as a whole musically.
“Amber Alert” brings some brutal double bass drumming and more traditionally chugging guitars back into the mix before breaking into even more layered and dynamic guitars across the bridge of the song. Vocally, Leroy moves from his usual guttural-beast sound and brings in some quick faux-rapping stylings. Thematically, this song is all about the meaning of the title. If you’ve gotten one on your phone lately, you know that an amber alert is issued when someone goes missing. Fittingly, this song looks at the protagonist walking through the shadows of the valley of death as if they were lost and missing, yet the promise of God’s presence and hand permeates. Also fittingly, the track fades mid-sentence so that it is left slightly unresolved and open.
“Renegade” takes this unresolved fade and breaks it in two with a chanting and pounding opening that cascades into further brutal themes. As the band screams out, “we stand in the shadows of fallen man begging others to listen, dwelling in the midst of fallen youth screaming Father forgive them,” they tackle the problem that comes with trying to fit in with the world and proudly proclaims that we will not be conformed to their ways. Though the past several songs seem to be anthemic in nature, this track is a powerful anthem for the youth of the world who are tired of conforming to the wicked ways of our time and want to be renegades simply by holding to truth. In this, the message is identical to Lecrae’s “Rebel.” It helps that the track is inherently memorable from start to finish, as well.
“Ecstasy” starts with a fairly standard progressive metal style, almost to a fault, however, there is just something catching in Leroy’s vocals that grip you. Overall, the track is solid, however it is not as immediately gripping as what precedes it. In fact, I don’t envy the position this song is in, as it follows six or seven game-changing tracks in a row. Still, the layered guitars and strong message of giving everything to a relationship only to be jilted will make this track stick for many.
The album closes strong with “Still Small Voice.” This track is a progressive metal ballad by way of a battle hymn bearing bloodied and bruised knees. As a closing track, it accomplishes its set job of closing out the themes of the album, blending the overall style, bringing its own memorable moments, and also bringing down the tempo just enough to leave the listener with closure.
Musicianship: War of Ages has always been a supremely powerful band that stands out from the crowd. Even still, their most recent album Return to Life showed that this proven formula could use a little shaking up. This shaking up comes in the form of another Facedown rocker and Hope for the Dying alum. The blending of Daniel’s European flavored classic metal guitars with WOA’s distinct flavor provides something that stays true to the band’s core, yet provides needed evolution. Though it is not a direct comparison, think Demon Hunter’s recent Extremist in how the band has stayed to their core sound, and yet played nicely on the edges.
Lyrical/Spiritual Content: Fans of War of Ages’ past work know what to expect from the band. As with their previous albums, Supreme Chaos is anthemic spirit-filled battle music from start to finish. Though this album does not break “new” ground, per se, it does continue and further themes built upon throughout the band’s career in a pleasing and powerful way. The elements used in that theme are gritty, real, and honest, unafraid to examine the battle scars of the world through the redemptive blood of Christ.
Lasting Value: The biggest reason I gave WOA’s previous album a middle-of the road score was that I didn’t see myself listening to it over the long haul (as a complete package). I was right. Two years later and I haven’t really visited Return to Life the way I have many of their previous efforts, especially Eternal. While I still hold Eternal as a subjectively better album, Supreme Chaos is without a doubt one of War of Ages best albums to date, and is one of the best heavy albums of the year, period.
Overall: Take War of Ages signature sound and add in the blissfully powerful guitar work of Hope for the Dying. What do you get? Apparently you get one of the best heavy albums of the year. Though they are always one of the strongest bands out there, Supreme Chaos brings an even more polished and spiritually uplifting set of songs to War of Ages’ already impressive arsenal. This album is pure Spirit-filled, blood and sweat covered, anthemic battle music… and it is exactly what fans are hoping for. Though Eternal probably still holds the crown as the band’s overall best album for me, personally, Supreme Chaos now sits alongside Demon Hunter’s Extremist as the best heavy albums of the year so far.
Leroy interviewed about the album: linked here.