While live music has mostly ground to a halt over the last 11 months or so, there aren't a lot of musicians that have just been resting on laurels. From live-streaming performances to virtual collaborations, artists have found ways to keep themselves busy during the global crisis.
This is true of Hannibal-based rockers NOWAKE. Throughout the months where stages stood empty, the band took the time to get in the studio to work on their third release, "Wartooth." (The EP was set to be released to digital platforms on February 2nd, but due to a COVID-related issue with the publisher, it may be delayed up to 3 weeks.)
The 6-track collection combines deep grooves, guitar riffs that just float out of nowhere, and lyrics that are exceptionally timely to the world we're living in today. Singer Mark Kempker brings a lighter touch to the vocal than you might expect from the instrumental underpinnings of guitarists Sean McHargue and Austin Birkhead, Ryan Gilmore's bass, or the thundering kit of Mark VanWinkle.
Opening with brief instrumental - appropriately titled "III" - the album starts off with a mellow build and haunting strains from the guitars that drift out and wrap you up. VanWinkle's drums rumble, but it's the storm on the horizon you can feel coming while the sun is shining. That changes as the song transitions into the title track, with the guitars moving to a grinding, digging riff while the rhythm sections cuts in with that full, furious sound.
"Forgotten Melody" really showcases Kempker's vocal style, rising and falling across the scale. My first impression was that it was something you might expect to hear from a Ronnie James Dio-fronted group, but a more recent comparison hit me about halfway through the track: British Lion. The UK band has the same thing going on that NOWAKE does, with the driving, hard rock music paired with a lighter-than-expected touch to the vocals.
The lyrics of "Move" really couldn't be more appropriate to the deeply divided state of our county. "Go against the grain, now, standing tall / United we stand, divided we fall / When it's all said and done, do you think you won?" No matter where you stand on issues facing us, these lines need to be weighed carefully.
"Alone" is another track with lyrics that are full of meaning, and Kempker's vocal skills lend an emotional weight to them that you'll feel. The catchy hooks and blazing solos from the paired guitars carry this song along from front to back.
The closing track of the album is "Crazy World," and that really sums up the themes of these tracks. "You kiss your wife good-bye, and look up to the sky, and pray to God "Let me get this right." From teachers to firefighters to nurses and doctors to police officers to people just living their lives, this is a feeling I think we've all had at some point.
NOWAKE has been out there doing this for years now. They know the ups and downs, from the smallest stages to getting airplay on St. Louis radio, they've been running the gamut and making a bigger and bigger name for themselves. The "Wartooth" EP is a statement from the band that they have no intention of letting their foot off the gas.