Better Than TombsI listened to 2011's The Obsidian Plains. I even reviewed it. Back then, there were a handful of bands making this novel combination of black metal and sludge metal with varying degrees of hardcore influence: Castevet, Tombs, Withered, and Wolvhammer all released albums that garnered a lot of attention in a relatively short period of time. And they competed for space in my brain, with Wolvhammer being the one that unfortunately fell out some hole in my head. I had to go back and re-familiarize myself with them.
Now we're experiencing a new cycle with those same bands releasing their follow-up albums in a relatively short period of time (except Withered). This time around,Castevet took a left turn with mixed results and Tombs stayed the course for diminishing returns. Wolvhammer takes the crown of victory this cycle.
The hardcore drumming and odd sense of dissonance--which are the draws of the punk influence for me--have remained. And as before, they stick mostly to a mid-tempo. But the combination of hardcore and metal is more seamless than it was before. Last time I alleged that some of their backing vocals sounded like gang vocals, but I wouldn't say that here. And none of the riffs jump out as "punk" riffs, because although there is certainly a punk sound to it, the edges have been sanded off. It feels more natural.
That natural feel has, I'm pleased to say, resulted in improved songwriting. Cuts like "Death Division" and "Slaves to the Grime" immediately worm their way into your ear. They have a knack for writing riffs that roll along steadily and then briefly build to mini-climax--inducing the head-nodding punctuated by a bigger neck-snap at just the right moment. While that kind of songwriting tends to make me think low-brow, blue-collar metal, there are also occasional pieces that bring it up to a different level: Post-metal shimmer ("The Silver Key") or Loss-like depressive motif ("A Light That Doesn't Yield"). Still blue-collar, no doubt, but not low-brow.
The title track closes things out on one of the more memorable songs so far this year, complete with a small helping of clean vocals. That should be enough to ensure I don't forget this record in three years' time.
The Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars