Well folks, if you’ve ever been so overwhelmed with spare time that you’ve followed my writings on this esteemed website, and for that matter the fertile soil of metalteamuk from which it bloomed, you will know I’m an unashamed fan of the music of Scott Weinrich. Whether as part of a procession of lauded bands, be it The Obsessed, Saint Vitus, The Hidden Hand, Premonition 13 (I was lucky enough to be at their one and only London show back in 2011), Shrinebuilder, his solo work, or acoustic duets with Cony Ochs, he is a consummate musician. Indeed, I feel compelled to refer back to an interview I quoted before where the then line up of Saint Vitus were being asked about their day jobs and amongst the assorted mundane replies of his bandmates he just said “troubadour.” Wino is a man who simply exudes musical creativity, albeit his abilities are sometimes overshadowed by headlines in the underground press about his pharmaceutical battles. I can only say from a personal level that I’ve seen him play a shed load of times and never been disappointed, and on a few fortunate occasions shared post show drinks and chat with him, and always found him amiable beyond his onstage growling persona, as well as a massively articulate human being.

That underlying intelligence, as well as verbal and musical dexterity, never shines through more brightly than in his stripped back acoustic work, and ‘Forever Gone’ is a supreme example of those abilities. The title track opens with a simple yet haunting and echoing guitar, each chord plucked with a melancholic anger that is only accentuated by his clear, world weary, vocals. The lyrics tell a tale of love and loss that in the hands of a lesser artist (“artist” now there’s a word I don’t often use, but damn me if it doesn’t apply to Wino!), could easily drift into the realms of mawkish Country and Western rhinestone clad exaggeration, yet in his hands has an utterly compelling honesty. ‘Taken’ follows, with words and music drenched in darkness and woe that sound wrenched from the depths of his soul. This same stripped back gloom follows in the whiskey soaked sorrow of ‘The Song’s at the Bottom of the Bottle’, what could so easily be a genuinely stark soul bearing autobiographical number that itself bleeds tearfully into the remorse of ‘No Wrong’.

‘Dark Ravine’ follows with a practically over the top sound compared to the earlier tracks, simple yet effective drum beats being added to the previously pared to the bone guitar and vocals delivery, but please don’t think I am describing a number to inspire dancing and whoops of joy; darkness and introspection soaks every note, even with its refrain of flying over a dark ravine, the impression being that he is emerging from a black fog only to emerge into purveying greyness, a despair reinforced by the following ‘Dead Yesterday’. Even the comparatively upbeat by title and pace ‘You’re So Fine’, where Wino serenades an unidentified target of affection as being as “hot as a chilli” yet as “sweet as strawberry wine” is threaded through with unease; it’s almost as if he could be equally addressing a beloved human partner or an evil pervading opioid, such is the ambiguity of the song. ‘Crystal Madonna’ follows, revisiting a track he first released on the album ‘Freedom Conspiracy’ with Cony Ochs, another performer I can only implore you to experience, yet this new iteration of the song is even more stripped back than the 2015 original, eschewing vocal harmonies, and slowing the pace to add additional layers of misery.

‘Lavender and Sage’ follows, the title sounding like it should be some folksy follow up to the combination of herbs found at ‘Scarborough Fair’, but instead sketches out a bleak and barren landscape, the same theme continuing in the empty echoing of ‘Was Is Shall Be’, all before the record comes to an end with ‘Isolation’, a number that seen through the lens of current times could be equally pandemic or emotional, but is in fact where Wino revisits the prescient cult Joy Division classic he previously tackled on the limited release ‘Labour of Love’ album in 2012, again transforming the synth dominated 1980 dirge with his own downcast delivery.

I’m rather guessing that if you have somehow managed to drag yourself through the downbeat depths of this review, you would only buy the album if you were the most grim of the grim, and revel in the depths of despair. However, you’d be wrong; in all the gloom and darkness of the material and delivery, there remains an underlying light, an almost elusive optimism. Like a lone plant shoot pushing its way resiliently through blackened soil, there is a spark of aspiration that manifests in the sheer quality of of Wino’s playing and singing, challenging anyone willing to listen to grasp onto that straw with both hands and hold tight. ‘Forever Gone’ practically encapsulates a miasma of despair, without the need of resorting to extreme metal worn tropes of nihilistic screaming, yet at the same time has a near intangible, illusive resonance of hope.

(9/10 Spenny)