“Let’s raise some wonderful, beautiful hell and make this world worth living in. Let’s raise some hell,” War On Women vocalist Shawna Potter sings atop of flurry of hits and licks on the title track of the Baltimore rockers’ new album, Wonderful Hell. Acknowledging the troubled state of the country, the song motivates listeners to identify problems, stand up to authority and do the hard – yet wonderful – work to advocate for a better tomorrow.
Wonderful Hell, out digitally on Oct. 30 and physically on Nov. 13 via Bridge Nine Records, encourages fans to fight, though its greatest strength as a call to action lies in its optimism. Yes, there is a fascist in the White House. Yes, the country was built on stolen land. Yes, systemic racism and blatant misogyny serve as pandemics of oppression, but there’s something we can do. It’s time to get to work, raise wonderful hell and create lasting change.
On top of its unyielding rebellion, the album absolutely rips. It’s full of no-nonsense protest lyrics amplified by sprawling solos, relentless cadences and basslines that serve as the soundtrack of a revolution. Brooks Harlan – who is credited as the album’s co-producer along with J. Robbins – and Jennifer “Jenarchy” Vito’s tag-teaming guitars add menace and ferocity to tracks like “White Lies” and “Milk and Blood,” the latter of which takes aim at consumerism and the dangers of distraction. Later, this dynamic duo shows off its playful side on “The Ash is Not the End” with a riff that is so irresistible you can’t help but to dance along as Potter screams, “Bite down. Choose your weapon, cut it fast, cut it clean. If you want the wound to heal, well first it has to bleed.”
Drummer Dave Cavalier comes in swinging on the deadly opening song, “Aqua Tofana,” expertly driving the music with his evolving rhythms and heart-pounding fills. Bassist Sue Werner anchors the swirling chaos of “Her?” providing focus amid tornadic examples of chauvinist judgements hurled upon anyone “who is not a cisgender man in politics.”
Potter shared insight into the protagonists of “Her?” in a recent Rebellious Magazine interview, saying, “No matter what they do, in the public eye, it’s not right. It’s not good enough for what other people want because the rules are always changing. I wanted to illustrate how it’s not about the specifics of what they do, it’s about the fact that they’re not men.”
War On Women balances the seething fury of tracks including “This Stolen Land” and “In Your Path” with personal reflections on “Big Words” – idiosyncratic rhythms echoing the unsettling nature of looking back – and “Demon,” on which Potter delicately sings of “internalized misogyny.” Almost Bjork-like in its melody, “Demon” closes the album with a finessed crescendo during which Potter refuses to be a simple accessory before vowing to scream until she can no longer breathe.
Perhaps one day the powers that be will encourage a society built on fairness, equity and empathy. Until then, it sure feels good to turn up Wonderful Hell and rage towards a better future.