Wovenwar, live in San Diego

A memorable homecoming gig from born again local heroes

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It’s a typically paradisical Friday evening in San Diego and tonight, Wovenwar make their hometown debut at SOMA — the storied punk and metal institution that over the years has showcased incendiary sets from the likes of the Ramones, the Smashing Pumpkins, Faith No More and yes, As I Lay Dying.

Frontman Shane Blay has just returned backstage from another stroll through the venue, where myriad fans are noisily clamouring for the headliners, even as the second of four openers march through their set. Sitting down with TeamRock, Blay shakes his head and says, “This is surreal, and pretty humbling. It’s been a dream come true.”

Certainly the past week has seen the stars align in a magical configuration for his band, whose self-titled debut stormed onto the charts with a heatseeking trajectory that took the musicians off-guard. “We saw Brian Slagel (Metal Blade Records president),” he explains, “and he explained that our debut had hit number 2 on the Rock chart, number one in Metal and number one in all these other countries and I was just like, ‘What? People know who we are?’”

Such tongue-in-cheek banter belies the band’s notorious origins. As any metal enthusiast not living under a massive rock in a cave on Neptune for the past year knows, San Diego metalcore giants As I Lay Dying imploded in 2013 with the arrest and conviction of lead singer Tim Lambesis for soliciting the murder of his wife. As the ensuing media maelstrom gathered intensity, the remaining members of AILD largely withdrew from the public eye, leaving their future squarely in doubt.

Unknown to only a few, the band (guitarists Nick Hipa and Phil Sgrosso, bassist Josh Gilbert and drummer Jordan Mancino), wasted little time in plotting their next move — As I Lay Dying was finished, there being no viable way to move forward either with or without Lambesis. Instead, they formed Wovenwar as a new project, with longtime friend Blay as the frontman and a unique sound featuring both prismatic melodies and classic metal elements, yet boasting the same manifest aggression that had embodied the sound of their previous band.

The rivers of rock and roll are clogged with clumsily-hatched and half-baked side projects whose long-term strategy dissolved shortly after the demo phase. Wovenwar on the other hand, announced their arrival in the spring of 2014 with a breathtaking one-two punch, revealing an August release date for their debut album as well as a supporting tour with Black Label Society. Shortly thereafter, the band announced a European campaign supporting In Flames, plus three headlining shows in Southern California to celebrate their album’s release. Blay, emboldened by the momentum of the past month, is chomping at the bit. “I don’t feel like the performance of the album or the successes we’ve had have added any pressure for me,” he explains. “I think it’s the opposite because now I’m more confident that what we’re doing is going to reach people. At first we were worried, thinking, ‘Is anybody going to like this?’ Well, now we know they do, so now I can have more fun with it on stage.”

That opportunity arrives precisely at 9:45, as darkness envelops the club and the album’s moody intro pipes through the house. When the lights flash on, a deafening response greets the band as they storm into first single All Rise. Wovenwar teased snippets of the song in brief promotional videos in the weeks leading up to the album release, but not even the muscular production of the debut could match the rhythmic bludgeoning now at hand. Behind a fearsome barrage of jackhammer tempos and blizzards of speed-picking, the band have tapped into that electrifying sweet spot of live shows — taut musicianship with acres of loose, riotous grooving.

The next forty-five minutes see the band execute a masterfully-paced campaign that includes all but two tracks from the debut. Blay easily establishes himself as a confident and charismatic frontman with an impressive range and easy between-song banter. Death To Rights, Matter Of Time and Archers stand out as high points in a filler-free set and as the final notes of closer Prophets ring out through the club, hoarse cries for more have already begun. “We’ve only got one album,” protests Blay with a laugh. If tonight is a reliable augury of things to come, then it’s clear that Wovenwar have just charted the course for an auspicious new odyssey.

Joe Daly

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.