The past few years have seen a slew of metalcore bands reform after years of inactivity, but there’s something to be said for those that never left and have been offering a consistent stream of new music year after year. Erie’s War of Ages fall into this category, as despite some lineup changes over the past two decades they’ve continued to offer a mix of heavy hitting riffs, screams, and powerful melodies. Some of their mid-period albums did run together with similar leads and approaches, but in recent years the group has branched out more and experimented with softer textures alongside an increased emphasis on singing. 2021’s Rhema EP stood out thanks to its mix of metalcore with post hardcore and electronic elements, and two year’s later War of Ages is back with their ninth full length Dominion. This follows the tragic passing of their drummer Kaleb Luebchow last year, but even with this adversity the band has continued to explore a diverse set of ideas that is just as strong as their more recent full lengths.
Dominion quickly establishes itself as a mixture of the core sound War of Ages utilized throughout the mid-2000s alongside the melodic and progressive flourishes that have been emerging over the last few albums. Opener “Famine” starts things off with slower chugging that doubles down on the heavy before moving over to faster riffs that sound like they would fit right into that 2005-2008 time period. But by the time the chorus kicks in the band layers some additional melodies over top of them that makes things feel more expansive, and this is one of the areas where they’ve only gotten better over the years. The first half of Dominion comes across like a return to the more brute force and groove heavy approach of earlier War of Ages, and while you do get some dips into djent on “Victorium” tracks like “Dominus” and “War” stick closer to that tried and true formula. While there are plenty of strong riffs, some of the earlier ones do blur together a bit and I found that the band didn’t really hit their stride until the second half. This is where the guitar work get stronger and more varied, as “Death” and “Horror” embrace an almost Meshuggah level of chug and allow the soundscape elements to pop out more, enhancing the overall darker tone of the album. “Misery” is an effective closer, as it utilizes softer melodies that are a bit more in line with post hardcore, and this creates a haunting atmosphere that’s punctuated with bursts of heavier riffing. The stronger moments are bolstered by another rock-solid production, which really emphasize Kaleb Luebchow’s final performance and make those drums thump you right in the chest from beginning to end.
Dominion is the first concept album War of Ages has done in their career and considering that it explores the Book of Revelation it makes sense that the instrumentals have an overall darker tone while offering some hopeful melodies. The vocals follow a similar path with this concept in mind, moving from intense growls over to soaring clean singing. I mentioned this in my review of Rhema, but it took War of Ages a little bit to find their footing when it came to the combination of harsher and clean pitches, but they continue to nail it on Dominion. “Famine” gives listeners an idea of how much range they can expect from the material, as things start off with harsher spoken word and screaming/growling before the singing comes in to add that much softer, airier tone. While a lot of the songs do follow the standard verse/chorus format, the group finds interesting ways to switch it up and quite a few of the choruses are likely to get stuck in your head for some time to come.
Nine albums in, War of Ages certainly has nothing to prove but has once again showcased they’re not running out of steam any time soon. Dominion smartly sticks to their heavier shredding and chugs while also shaking up the melodic textures, particularly on the second half, and when combined with the darker tone it makes for material with some staying power. Some of the tried and true formula does make the first half blur together a bit more than I had hoped, but this is up there with the better efforts in the band’s discography and a great tribute to Luebchow. Dominon is available from Facedown Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg