Monday, May 12, 2014

Wovenhand: Refractory Obdurate (2014)

The Reverse Path

In the nearly three years since I found Wovenhand, I've found myself listening to it more than any other artist. If it's not my favorite band, it's at least my favorite active band. Consider the Birds is one of the five albums that changed my life, if you'll excuse the slight hyperbole. So, take this with a grain of salt if you must. But I've been recommending them repeatedly since then, and I've gotten nothing but positive feedback from anyone who's listened.

So, with that introduction out of the way, let's consider Refractory Obdurate, the band's seventh studio full-length. The Laughing Stalk (2012) found the band adding heaviness to their unmistakable blend of folk and country. I had always sensed an affinity to metal from David Eugene Edwards' music, but that is where it really came through. The incredible "Corsicana Clip" and "The Refractory" are excellent examples of a the Laughing Stalk sound continuing. But if anything, Refractory Obdurate represents an even larger shift for the band.

For one thing, the metal aspect of their sound is even stronger. (Did I mention Sanford Parker produced it?) Take "Hiss." There's a prominent rhythm part practically lifted from Black Sabbath's "Children of the Grave," and I couldn't be happier about it.

I observe that Opeth went away from metal, and declared "God is dead." Wovenhand has gone closer to metal, pointing out that Opeth spoke three days too soon.

Beyond that, I'm not even sure you can still call this a folk album. It's ventured far into post-punk. The mandolin is strangely quiet on upbeat, rockin' punk songs like "Good Shepherd" and "Field of Hedon." With few exceptions (e.g., "King David," "Salome") this Wovenhand is much less moody drone, much more rock 'n' roll.

In a first for me, I've actually reviewed the lyrics before writing the review. As I expected, it's a slightly arcane, extremely metal interpretation of Christianity. To those who still doubt my "Jesus is metal" theory, woe unto them. Though I'm not sure, the theme could be drawn from the first few chapters of Ezekiel. Quite appropriate to our time.

Edwards is still at the height of his creative abilities. This is a more dynamic, adventurous album than its predecessor. It's not as unrelentingly dark, but I don't believe its power is diminished for it.

The Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars


  1. Good stuff--I bought it on Bandcamp. If you were gong to recommend another album of theirs, what would it be?

    1. The short answer is The Laughing Stalk, but you've pretty much talked me into doing a brief review of DEE's entire discography.

      Right now I'd have a very hard time picking between Refractory Obdurate (2014) and The Laughing Stalk (2012). Those are also the two that are most obviously influenced by metal, and in my opinion the best. I'd also consider them part of a distinct, new phase in the band's development.

      Out of the band's earlier material, I'd have to say The Threshingfloor (2010), Consider the Birds (2004), and Wovenhand (2002) are the best, followed by Ten Stones (2008). Mosaic (2006) isn't quite as strong, even if it does have their best song ("Dirty Blue"). Blush Music (2002) is easily the weakest, though not bad by any stretch. Much of it is recycled from the self-titled album and from a film soundtrack they did.

      16 Horsepower is Edwards' earlier band, which could really do no wrong. It was more song-oriented, hook-oriented music on the incredible Sackcloth 'n' Ashes (1995) and Low Estate (1997), but Secret South (2000) sounds pretty much like a Wovenhand album, and I would put it right up there with The Threshingfloor.

    2. Also, the early 16 Horsepower stuff is more properly classified as country, although it does still have some of the other elements.

    3. Thanks! I clearly have some investigating/listening to do. I was into stuff like The Jayhawks long before I got re-invested in metal, so this kind of music has always struck a chord with me.