October 26, 2020 War on Women – Wonderful Hell (Album Review)
If you want activism and timely socio-political commentary, then turning to Punk and Hardcore is never a bad choice. If you want feminist Hardcore with balls, then may we humbly suggest that you seek out War on Women? Their latest, Wonderful Hell, arrives digitally on Friday, October 30, 2020, thanks to Bridge 9 Records, who will also issue the LP in physical formats on November 13th.
Formed in 2010, Maryland’s War on Women has a lot to say about vital social issues. Inspired by the riot grrrls of the past, but very much a co-ed band, the quintet made their debut with 2012’s Improvised Weapons EP before going on to deliver their eponymous full-length debut, War on Women, three years later. Tours with the likes of the Refused, Propagandhi, Anti-Flag, Boy Sets Fire, Jello Biafra, and Shai Hulud followed, as did their 2018 sophomore release, Capture the Flag.
But with the alt-right’s misogynistic, white supremacists running the country, and a crucial election just days away, these unapologetic punks are going to get in your face to deliver more commentary. So for their third full-length disc, War on Women—Vocalist Shawna Potter, Guitarist Brooks Harlan, Guitarist/Vocalist Jennifer “Jenarchy” Vito, Bassist/Vocalist Sue Werner, and Drummer Dave Cavalier—continue to hold nothing back. Recorded, mixed and produced by longtime collaborator J. Robbins, along with Guitarist Harlan, the 11-song LP is a call to action, as well as a reminder that you’re not alone in your frustration and exhaustion. But keep fighting!
Wonderful Hell opens with the poisonous “Aqua Tofana,” titled after a 17th-century Italian husband-killing cocktail of arsenic, lead, and belladonna. It’s a tongue-in-cheek name for an abrasive track that looks at building a feminist movement from the ground up, full of the fire to demand the changes necessary to better women’s lives —not, as misogynists would love for you to believe, to kill men. Next, the guitars dig deep for “Milk and Blood” before the band puts out a Rage Against the Machine level call-to-arms on the verses of album namesake, “Wonderful Hell,” balancing this with melodic, full-bodied choruses.
Not even considering a cool down period, they start off “This Stolen Land” with an ironic sound bite of children singing “This Land Is Your Land.” What follows is a condemnation of politicos who practice xenophobia and point fingers at refugees and migrants, all while standing upon soil that was violently stolen from the Native Americans. The dour mood of the track’s sonics is an appropriate reflection of the topical material, one that allows the quintet to harness their fury to propel their (just) cause. They keep the fire burning for the raging “White Lies,” a look at the complicity of our government (and far too many citizens) in systemic racism. And while the subject is a harsh reality, War on Women offers some poetic advice: “If the bastards grind you down, become a diamond and cut them all.”
Still a whirlwind of passionate ire, they burst full-throttle into the guitar-heavy advice of “Big Words” (“Hurt people hurt people”) before transitioning into the frenetic Punk of “Seeds,” a look at fear and division. This paves the way into the cacophonous sonics that swirl into “Her?,” a harsh look at gender disparity and the objections raised to women in seats of power, particularly female politicians, whose competence is often doubted solely because of their gender. On a similar note, the Hardcore throttle of “In Your Path” is a quick stab at gender-based violence, one that adapts a chant from the Chilean grassroots feminist collective Las Tesis.
As the band begins to approach their epic finale, they offer up the catchy “The Ash is Not the End,” an anthemic plea to continue fighting and to never avoid the difficulties and the pain inherent in making important changes. This sets the stage for the mesmerizing slow-burn of “Demon,” which features additional vocals from Janet Morgan. The six and a half minute show-stopper begins with wildly reverberating guitars and solid percussion, creating a build into the body of a track that is both atmospheric and moving, all while harnessing some ethereal moments to cap off an intense collection with a dose of hope.
In this, Wonderful Hell spells out many of the social issues facing our nation today, vents both anxiety and frustration with our lack of progress in many areas, and then begs listeners to find their inner strength and fight toward turning it all around. This is set to a perfectly imperfect, impassioned blend of Punk, Hardcore, and Grunge, one that, more often than not, revels in its harsher edges. But the quintet is also able to refine their sound when their lyrical content necessitates the spotlight. Thus, the incendiary War on Women falls somewhere between L7 and Hole, but with a lot more to say than their two foremothers combined. A war we can get behind, Cryptic Rock gives Wonderful Hell 4.5 of 5 stars.