Over the past several years, a very interesting form of Black Metal has occurred – a strange but very enjoyable mutation that I believe may have been caused by Ulver, Agalloch, and Negura Bunget, or at least they’re the earliest example I can think of (do correct me if I’m wrong). A friend of mine jokingly referred to it as ‘Enya Tinged Black Metal’ [sic], when I first discovered Negura Bunget and raved about how awesome the “Om” album is.
The sound of such bands is a prevalence of of moody folk passages involving the likes of mandolin, flute, and a multitude of strange instruments you’d find in a shop selling joss sticks and world jewellery. They create an air of ethereal mystery to the black metal aural tapestry, and add a very distinct sound; of a somewhat Pink Floyd-ian or Steve Hillage sort of nature. Either way, I’m a fan of it and so are many other people. These bands also appear to have a very individual tone; Negura Bunget and Drudkh are distinctly Eastern European and have many intriguing folk instrument flourishes permeating every tune that they make. All very agreeable indeed. While Fen, Wodensthrone, and Winterfylleth have a beautiful sense of distinct English melancholy with an ethereal aural sound-scape that conjures up images of rolling fields of oak, mountains, and a distinctly Anglo-Saxon theme weaved into a black metal bombast. In fact, one of the best listening experiences of Winterfylleth was blasting down quiet twisty country roads on a mountain bike last summer – the music and the outdoor activity going hand in hand perfectly.
Which brings me neatly to the latest Wodensthrone album. I had bought a copy of the ‘Loss’ album a while ago, not long after I discovered the delights of Winterfylleth, Negura Bunget, Fen and Agalloch. My perception of the band is that people usually think of the bands I’ve just name checked first, while Wodensthrone isn’t quite as well known and could be at risk of disappearing under the radar if enough word isn’t spread about them. Fortunately, with their latest album ‘Curse”, it has certainly raised the bar considerably.
For starters, the “Loss” album I felt was a little gritter and more ‘necro’ than Winterfylleth’s “The Ghost of Heritage”, and I always found myself listening to that one first if I had to make a choice as it was slightly more sonically dynamic and involved. Please, don’t get me wrong here; “Loss” is a very good album but I ended up always returning back to “The Ghosts of Heritage” – it’s a very close run thing, measured by the diameter of a cats whisker.
Not so with “Curse”, I have to say that the sound has matured in leaps and bounds similar to when Cradle of Filth took a dramatic ‘hi-fi’ turn when they released “Vempire” many years ago. I always felt that Wodensthrone had serious potential and I stuck by their first album despite my preferences, and in this case the new album is an absolute blinder. “The Remaining Few” starts off with an excellent Mike Oldfield-esque intro of lapping waves against a shore with acoustic guitar and flute motif lulling the listener into a false sense of security before heading off a full on black metal snarl of “Jormungandr”, that varies the pace with some shimmering melodic changes adding a sense of dynamics to the track with chanted vocal passages. “First Light” starts with a singular slow guitar riff intro and sparse drumming with has a flavour of Emperor (especially with the screamed vocals) which then speeds up with majestic soaring flourishes; taking a folk twist into an acoustic guitar and flute passage, punctuated by a bluesy guitar solo reverting back into full tilt black metal with a curiously anthemic vocal ending in a spooky passage that bring a sense of foreboding. This leads neatly into “The Great Darkness”, opening with dramatic chiming guitar chords punctuated with pained screams and a chant, which pours stridently out of the speakers like a malevolent black carpet of evil; which sounds like the best bits of Emperor and Hecate Enthroned circa “The Slaughter of Innocence” thrown in a blender, with traces of thrash guitar riffing in places with would have the listener believe the band came from deepest darkest Scandinavia, and not Sunderland. This track alone, is a perfectly polished example of how far they’ve come.
“Battle Lines” starts with a dramatic film score-esque intro of tribal drums, horns, and flute which sounds like the intro to a battle scene of a film set in medieval times, heading off into thundering black metal stomp underpinned by a catchy guitar signature throughout the tune; topped off nicely a thin veil of keyboard and synth in the background that is never overblown with a brief acoustic guitar passage. “Wyrgthu” starts with clean electric guitar which then picks up pace once more, soaring, ebbing and speeding up once more adding a sense of drama with traces of Immortal guitar riffing punctuated by an aggressive chug six minutes into the track. “The Storm” chooses not to mess around and dive into the listeners ears feet first, bringing back the Emperor similarities again to my ears and being one of the shortest tracks. Album closer “The Name of the Wind” begins in a Pink Floyd-ian manner with an acoustic guitar shimmer that sounds somewhat ethereal with bongo style drumming; heading off into a more melodic style and slightly more restraint to the out and out bombast of the earlier tracks on the album, with a desolate howling wind outro and chimes.
In conclusion, Wodensthrone have produced a seriously enjoyable album of this so called Progressive Black Metal genre, and I feel that so far it is their crowing moment. Some bands tend to add too much into one album and try too hard, leaving future albums lacking in ideas; this is definitely not one of those albums and demonstrates a level of maturity and progress. I look forward to any possible tours, and I imagine they will gain many new friends and fans with this album.