Just hanging out with their giant glowing orb. David Belisle

My first encounter with Seattle trio Wah Wah Exit Wound happened last July at the Blue Moon Tavern. It was that infamous night when a member of local metal band the Abodox tried to "liberate" a painting from the bar's premises.

Before that scandal occurred, Wah Wah Exit Wound performed a set that impressed via supremely labyrinthine compositions whose dynamics resembled the mad swerves and undulations of a roller coaster designed under the influence of psilocybin. This was prog rock executed at an Olympian level of endurance and a graduate-student degree of intelligence. But the tunes didn't spiral up their own fundaments; you could bang your high-IQ'd head to them while thoughtfully stroking your beard—or scratching your chin, as the case may be.

WWEW's songs—as heard on their three albums, Earth Is a Cannon of Love, Vibrational Osmosis, and the new 3 Woodpeckers—are mind-bogglingly complex (the last two were mastered by the masterly Mell Dettmer). You will probably find it hard to remember everything about them afterward, but while you're enmeshed in their knotty rhythmic peregrinations, coruscating tonalities, and heroic melodies, your life will take on an empowering feeling of majesty—or profound puzzlement. You just never know, and that's a large part of the thrill of this band.

Guitarist and vocalist Dave Webb (formerly of Girth and Asva) formed WWEW with Jared Nelson in 2007, but Nelson, who now plays in the Contraband Countryband, departed early on. "The initial idea was to fuse classic prog-rock epicness (King Crimson, Yes) with more Sonic Youth–ish guitars and the heart of Neil Young with Crazy Horse," Webb says. "Once [drummer Andy Pease and bassist/vocalist Bowie McLean] came into the fold, everything changed, of course. The music has really always been its own thing. We've made few conscious choices in direction, but the general sound comes from who we are and the merging of our outlooks on the world."

With WWEW's songs being so incredibly intricate and serpentine, it surely must take marathon rehearsal sessions to remember all of the parts.

"It's gotten a lot easier as time has gone on," Webb says. "Although it sounds like not much is repeating in our songs, many of them have recurring themes and motifs, which unfold as if there was a narrative. It's actually a lot easier to remember where you are in a narrative structure than if each riff was exactly the same 64 times. Some songs take a few months of rehearsing to get down, but others have taken only a few times getting together, so it's pretty varied.

"We'll never be one of those bands with a working repertoire of 200 songs, but hopefully we'll be able to play just as long as one of those bands! The key to getting the complex stuff is just to slow it down and make sure everybody really understands what they are playing and what everybody else is playing and how it all works together. Then speeding it up is the fun part."

Let's be blunt for a minute: It's physically and mentally exhausting to listen to Wah Wah Exit Wound—although that's why the rewards that come from exposure to it are commensurately so high. The effect is similar to how wrung out you feel after listening to jazz-fusion titans such as Tony Williams Lifetime, Mahavishnu Orchestra, or Return to Forever. As with those groups, it takes multiple close listens to crack WWEW's songs' enigmatic codes. One imagines that it would also require a high level of fitness to execute Wah Wah Exit Wound's output.

"[Our songs] can potentially be exhausting to both us and to the audience," Webb admits. "I've found that practicing until the music is second nature allows us to play from our hearts instead of our minds. If we can do that and establish the right bond with the audience, then it won't be. To sit down and listen to our new album from beginning to end analytically would most definitely be exhausting. If you can just relax and let the endless stream of riffs and parts move over you like waves, you'll find the real music."

There seems to be a tension in Wah Wah Exit Wound's creations between chaos and order. Perhaps the songwriting process can be viewed as a struggle to harness these forces—maybe as a fusion of the best elements of both impulses?

"I think that the tension between chaos and order is just a reflection of that same tension which is found in all our lives," Webb observes. "Our music is very organic and natural. When I write music, I try to be a lightning rod, not the sky. Writing a new song can be like staring into the void. Sometimes you see nothing, and sometimes you see more than you bargained for."

"It's both," adds Pease, who also plays in the metal band Evangelist. "You walk that line all the time in this band, using parts of anything and everything to make each section of one song feel and sound like a completely different song. These pieces have a lot of mood swings in them. So at times it comes natural and you just plug into the vibe and it works. Other times, I end up forcing the fusing to make the song work."

Though they are humble men, Wah Wah Exit Wound—the name comes from a doodle that Webb had drawn of a wah-wah pedal shooting a gun—have grand ambitions. "We basically want to tour as much as possible and try to get as far out as we can," Webb explains. "We've got a song that's a tribute to Ritchie Blackmore that we're almost done with, and we've been talking about writing a brutal grind set and doing an EP around that. The idea came up on the last tour because we were playing with so many death-metal and grind bands. We want to have something that really speaks to that epic satisfaction that can only come from blasting into the stratosphere at 200-plus [beats per minute]. There have been some ideas about a concept album based on Rumi and also a set of 'singer-songwriter' tunes as well."

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As superhuman as Wah Wah Exit Wound's music sounds, its creators don't consider themselves rock stars, but rather simply "good dudes." And despite the frequent gigs with evil muthas in death and grind bands, WWEW eschew sinister tendencies.

"I think we were really fortunate that all of us wanted to make positive music," Webb says. "There is more than enough hatred and negativity in the world; I see no point in making art that reflects that. I think it's much harder to put some genuine beauty out there and say, 'Hey, we're doing our tiny part to tip the balance' toward love and light and all that jazz. I'm not trying to diminish the work of tons of amazing death-metal bands and splatter films, and I'm not saying that those things are intrinsically evil or wrong... but WWEW are more focused on making joyful, positive music. I think even when we explore concepts like alienation and loneliness, there's a silver lining there. When we go for broke with a grind or super over-the-top shred bit, it's about climbing the mountain!" recommended