“Who is that?” is the first question people ask when they see the cover of WHOOP-Szo’s latest album, Warrior Down. “My grandfather,” says bandleader, Adam Sturgeon. “Military man and residential school survivor,” he adds, letting the description sit before musing on what it must have been like for the Indigenous men of his grandfather’s generation to be summoned to the defense of their oppressors. Adam identifies as mixed-blooded, a person of Anishinaabe and Canadian experience. We learn more about his grandfather through the last song on the record, ‘Cut Your Hair’, a fragile acoustic reflection on his experience in a residential school and the ongoing resonance of that familial trauma. The final line, “They’ll cut your hair down now… Better grown my hair down now,” suggests an end that is a beginning, a belief there is a path to personal and cultural healing—but Warrior Down in its entirety makes it clear that this healing entails truth-seeking, which in turn, entails conflict.
Fluid in its structure and immense in its emotional scope, Warrior Down oscillates between pummelling percussion and sparkling gentleness, thrashing distortion and acoustic levity—it has the dynamics of a creation story in which left and right forces compete and collide in the course of seeking equilibrium. The driving optimism of ‘Amaruq’, a dedication to Indigenous solidarity, gives way to the dissonant thrashing of ‘Gerry’, a lament for the wrongful death of Adam’s cousin, who gave Adam his very first guitar. The forceful chant of ‘Long-Braided Hair’, a callout on the marginalization of Indigenous women and children, becomes the sparkling and serene ‘2CB’, a shoegazey saga that blurs levity with sedateness. The sparse and sardonic ‘6:1 – 6:2’, an allusion to the sections of the Bill C-31 of the Indian Act that define the criteria for having a legally recognized Indigenous identity in Canada, edges into the foreboding and ruthlessly self-examining ‘Oda Man’. Sonically and thematically, Warrior Down Warrior Down depicts the unfolding of a cultural big bang, in which eruptions of truth activate a succession of healthy confrontations.