Refractory Obdurate

Written by: AP on 29/03/2015 15:32:22

Another straggler from last year’s pool of unfinished business dates back almost a year, and the reason is simply that the band and album both escaped the normal scope of my search light until appearing on countless best of lists at 2014’s conclusion, including those predisposed to metal. The artist in question is Wovenhand, who garnered enormous praise for their seventh studio album “Refractory Obdurate”, and after it became clear that Hellfest had, in fact, not confused the alt-country quintet helmed by 16 Horsepower vocalist David Eugene Edwards with Wovenwar when they emerged high up on the French metal festival’s 2015 line-up, my curiosity about Wovenhand grew tenfold. ”There must be something in it that appeals to the metal of heart”, I convinced myself, and thus embarked upon what would prove to be an awakening listening experience.

Despite converging on alt-country as the predominant element at play in their music, however, Wovenhand are apparently (and justifiably) held in reverence as a band whose style is impossible to categorise. There is to it a touch of The Cure’s post-punk and grayscale mood as well, and you wouldn’t be far off attributing inspirations like The Jesus & Mary Chain or My Bloody Valentine to the songs that comprise “Refractory Obdurate” either. Indeed, tracks like “Corsicana Clip” and “Masonic Youth” are preposterously noisy, the underlying genre taken into consideration; as though Edwards and his crew stacked a hundred amplifiers in the studio, and then recorded the music through a colossal megaphone (incidentally, Edwards’ singing here is laced with that effect throughout, for better or worse). Mind you, the result is far from abrasive or bleary; just incredibly loud and resonant - which goes a long way toward explaining why the metal community has so readily embraced Wovenhand.

Of course, there is also the fact that Wovenhand’s music is intrinsically cool. It occasionally has that deceptive character of sounding as though it was put together in great haste, and with little regard to aesthetics. Yet at the same time, listening to a track like “The Refractory”, a cavernous and moody piece bordering on a ballad, it takes little insight to realise that the opposite is true: Edwards’ songwriting is, in fact, quite elegant; his knack for penning a haunting melody unparalleled. At first glance, much of his ideas seem to be based around repetition and resonance, yet in the space of just the first four songs (the three already mentioned, and “Good Shepherd”) Wovenhand manage to explore a plethora of differing expressions; from the cold, yet beautiful melancholy of “Corsicana Clip”, which sounds like a marriage between Nick Cave and Arborea, through the Faith No More-esque stomp and post-punk stylings of “Masonic Youth” and the balladry of “The Refractory”, to the warm and welcoming touches of Americana rock (think the most garage style picks by The Gaslight Anthem) and inspired percussion in “Good Shepherd”, Wovenhand prove their abilities aren’t limited to any one genre. They sway between styles with the cool arrogance of seasoned musicians, shrouding themselves in intrigue and ensuring that the listener remains on his/her toes at all times.

The way “Salome” gradually swells from unsettling intricacies to booming darkness, and the way “King David” reminds me of a more disquieting take on The Hold Steady’s excellent “One for the Cutters”, are further points worthy of positive remarks, as is the transition from these two slower pieces to the driving “Field of Hedon”. The latter features another stunning display of percussion work by Ordy Garrison, yet as with much of “Refractory Obdurate”, the individual aspects that give rise to its quality are hard to place. Above all, Wovenhand’s tradecraft lies in conjuring soundscapes, atmospheres, in which the meticulously layered guitar melodies, the highly textured rhythm section and Edwards’ megaphonic voice can live and breathe, echo off the rafters and produce a sound so vast and immersive it’s futile to look for an easy out. Granted, “Refractory Obdurate” is, for sure, a divisive piece of music. The methodical absence of clear hooks or conventional song structures will put some off, while others will relish the challenge, and the desire to create something different. If loud, experimental alt-country jammed with infusions of post-rock and -punk, as well as noise rock sounds promising, then “Refractory Obdurate” is an album for your shelf.


Download: Corsicana Clip, The Refractory, Good Shepherd, Hiss
For the fans of: 16 Horsepower, Arborea, Death in June, Earth
Listen: Facebook

Release date 29.04.2014
Glitterhouse Records / Deathwish Inc.

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