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Black metal has been borrowing a lot from hardcore in recent memory. Last year's release from Castevet and the French band Celeste are only two examples of the phenomenon. Add Minnesota's Wolvhammer to the list.
"A Defiled Aesthetic" displays all of the hardcore characteristics of the band: a punky riff, backing vocals that sound suspiciously like gang vocals, and feedback screeching aimlessly in the background, among others. You'll find all of those things to varying degrees throughout the album. But it's not as if you can pass this one up just because you already have Mounds of Ash.
Wolvhammer is distinct in that their approach is about as raw and primitive as the formula allows. Where Castevet approaches the black metal / hardcore blend like "Artists" trying to create "Art" (in stereotypical New York fashion), Wolvhammer approaches it with Midwestern simplicity. They're pissed off, and this is how they express it. It's as straight-forward as that.
The Verdict: If you like Castevet, you owe it to yourself to check out Wolvhammer. If you hate Castevet because you think they tread too close to pretension, then you owe it to yourself to check out Wolvhammer.
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/
An album like The Obsidian Plains always throws me for a loop, for while I didn't get a wealth of enjoyment from the music itself, I have a very healthy respect for what the band is doing. Wolvhammer is a Minnesota quartet which ably proves that blackened sludge need not be some wholly tortured, sluggish mess that forces a listener to mercilessly snort laced cocaine while tearing out his/her own ears and eyeballs. Granted, that's precisely what some adherents to the genre desire to experience, and thus we have acts like Eyehategod and Ramesses to dispose of them, but Wolvhammer is far more forward in incorporating its punk and hardcore influences, and in asserting a genuine, brighter sense of melody into the fury of their desolate existence.
In short: variation. If you've no interest in this genre outside of slovenly, spirit sucking noise, then The Obsidian Plains might not be the album you're looking for. It's slightly better produced and less impenetrable than last year's debut Black Marketeers of World War III, but they still incorporate a solid range of tempos into the track list that hold the listener's attention far more than some 45 minute harrowing stoner crawl might. "The Gleaming" morphs from wide open, muddy melodic sludge to punk-injected raw black metal and then into a moderately thrashing breakdown while the highly distorted bass glues it all into a singular, sobering expression. That said, I was more the into songs with fattened grooves that channeled a bit of Hellhammer like "Bones of the Pious" with its tremolo black breaks or "A Defiled Aesthetic" which alternates a Scandinavian dissonance with seething hardcore anger. "Shadowhorn" is perhaps the darkest and most memorable of these cuts, with mesmeric clean chanting cast like a shadow beneath the churning propulsion, and I also liked some of the warmer, melodic sludge in "The Sentinels".
Unfortunately, even the best written songs on this sophomore suffer from a bit of filler, and one could probably count the truly engaging guitar riffs on one hand. Left or right, your choice. The black, spacious vocals of Adam Clemans have a grisly sneer to them which sounds more than adequate to the mix and material, yet there's nothing particularly catchy about his phrasing or intonation which would drive you bonkers like Eyehategod or Iron Monkey used to do. The guitars, or at least the rhythms are very often predictable and familiar feeling, and I wish they'd made more use of the feedback and noise that permeates "Ghosts in the Water", because that actually added breadth to what otherwise follows a fairly obvious path. The Obsidian Plains is a loud and heavy record, but not heavy in terms of menace or vitriol, just the volume, so I'd like to hear some more wicked sounding note progressions mixed in with the more consonant choices.
Overall, Wolvhammer manifests the impression here of emerging from some third shift stint at a meat packing facility in the winter, red and tired eyes thrust out into the sun and in desperate need of coffee. Enormous sounding, but more blunt and spacious than abrasive. I admire them for crafting music that's a little harder to pin down in terms of its precise classification, but not all of the tunes here are created equal and too few of them really endure in the memory, nor does the work as a whole. Wanted to like this a bit more than I actually did.
I’ve spilled enough digital ink griping about modern metal’s overabundance of sterility and dearth of originality to fill a book in 2011, which makes it all the more satisfying when a fist in the face like Wolvhammer’s The Obsidian Plains comes along. Actually “a fist in the face” might be an understatement, because this Minnesota wrecking crew isn’t just delivering a knockout blow to candyass modern metal with their sophomore album, they’re slaughtering it with a flurry of filthy, blackened riffage and punishing rhythmic ferocity.
You see, Wolvhammer sound like a bunch of gnarly blue collar motherfuckers decided to form a band that would kick the living shit out of every lame current heavy metal trend you could name (don’t get me started) while in the midst of a whiskey, weed, Hellhammer and Eyehategod-fueled bender. Positively shit-faced and high as hell, yet coiled and ready to wreak unspeakable violence at any given moment.
That’s what sets Wolvhammer apart from the pack. Violence. Danger. These things are palpable throughout The Obsidian Plains‘ whirlwind of reckless abandon as the band goes on a musical trawl through the gutters of humanity looking for fresh meat. Even when Wolvhammer puts on the breaks and slips into a doom-laden trudge or a bout of eerie, blackened psychedelia, the album oozes real malevolence and hatred. It’s in the feedback and noise that creeps up from time to time, threatening to spiral out of control. It’s in the unhinged yet pummeling performances that make it feel like any one of the members of Wolvhammer could fly off the handle, crawl out of the speakers and smash your skull to a pulp without thinking twice about it. It’s in the driving intensity of the band wrestling with their instruments to keep the album from becoming total chaos.
And yet there is a method to the quartet’s madness. Wolvhammer know a thing or two about compelling songwriting, whether dishing out neck-snapping grooves or hypnotic tremolo riffs. Craftsmanship abounds, and the band is highly adept at throwing black metal, sludge and crust into a blender, chugging it, and then spewing the nasty concoction all over the unsuspecting listener. This mastery of a multitude of styles, combined with a brash energy that’s clearly indebted to real rock ‘n’ roll (and very possibly Motorhead), makes The Obsidian Plains one hell of a compelling listen.
In a time when metal has become painfully safe, Wolvhammer brings the fucking anarchy on The Obsidian Plains. It’s an ugly, twisted, rat bastard of an album that would just as soon stab your eyes out and piss in the bloody sockets as look at you. If you’re as tired as I am of squeaky clean productions, bands ripping off Mercyful Fate, bands welding generic Swedish death metal onto faceless American hardcore, namby pamby occult rock, etc, Wolvhammer’s got the cure for what ails ya. Viva hate.
Originally written for http://thatshowkidsdie.com