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Web of Wyrd - "By An Image Graven An Offering Burnt" (CD)

Web of Wyrd - "By An Image Graven An Offering Burnt" CD cover image

"By An Image Graven An Offering Burnt" track listing:

1. March of Torquemada (intro)
2. With Home in the Stone
3. The Hagridden Nightmare's Tail
4. Will o' the Wisp
5. As Wise as the Skywise
6. Rapt in Root (outro)

Reviewed by on May 27, 2008

"for those who can handle this magnificent mish-mash metal, a meshing of Arcturus’ avant-garde output with chaotic black metal and a folk-driven diversity of instrumentation, Web of Wyrd delivers."

If an album is entitled “By An Image Graven, An Offering Burnt,” one comes to expect music with a strong pagan theme, probably in keeping with an underlying folk rhythm. While these preconceptions are sustained at certain points in the EP, nothing can prepare the listener for the crazed medley of sound that is to follow.

There are several experimental, avant-garde groups in existence, yet Web Of Wyrd tends avoid a slower, post-rock arrangement in favor of an extremely complex grouping of instruments and voices, and emphasizes the rapidity of its playing. Their expansion to include female singing and keyboards relates to the techniques employed by In The Woods, but you won’t find any clean vocals here. Extremely skilled with all of the instruments they play, Anders Gustafsson and Morgan Sundell have done quite well for themselves, considering that as an unsigned act, they are financing their project on their own. This follows long after 2003’s demo album, “A Seedy Sowing For A Tinsel Harvest?”

“March of Torquemada” psyches up the listener for some battle metal, but before going off on a Turisas rampage, “With Home In The Stone” starts an element of crazed jester music, and no, I’m not talking about In Flames’ angry “Jester Race” so much as Arcturus’ dingy, carnival sideshow metal. The standard guitar-work is quite good but has the tendency to drown out the assorted background parts, such as the harum-scarum keyboards and woodwinds passing in and out. At times, minstrel music seems to join, a clever technique to further the antiquated plot. The bass dominates the end of the song until a violin steals in for a dreamy interlude, succeeded by a shredding guitar. The song is in constant evolution, so although there aren’t any cheesy, repetitive hooks, it’s difficult to grasp a hold upon this slice of complex songwriting with indeterminate pacing.

It quickly becomes apparent that these songs are formally written ballads, several with dialogue taking place between a multitude of characters, and their craft makes them worthy of any student of literature.

In “With Home In The Stone”, the Widow Gyldenstierne offers her best horse to whichever of her men will ride out on a December night to investigate the happenings at Magle Stone, searching over mere and meadow for “those being small”. The groom rides through the night and encounters trolls who advise him to feast with the others, yet he meets a young girl who tells him that he’s being hunted down and must flee. Taking the trolls’ pipe and crooked horn with him, the young man later refuses to return these articles to the trolls, as the widow wishes to keep them. Yet our human protagonist was not ultimately the victor: “Hence pass’d forty hours / ‘fore pass’d his horse away / Well dress’d our groom fared well in his suit / For the rest of his one more day”.

“The Hagridden Nightmare’s Tale” takes a much more coherent approach as a somewhat gothic tendency to mesh male and female vocals produces an eerie quality, connotative of Darzamat. The male vocals approach a squeak, interspersed with female wordless chanting, and everything gets really heavy and creepy at the end, a bit like Ihsahn’s solo work, as the keyboards pick up a black metal organ sound. The violin goes a long way towards unifying the elements of this song harmoniously, along with Sundell’s top-notch bass, which pretty much never lets up.

“Will O’ The Wisp” takes the closest stance to pagan, easily becoming the track to which most folk metalheads can attach themselves. Much clearer and more recognizable vocals combine with a minstrels’ chorus, easy to chant along with. Splendid musicianship is carried through unfailingly here, particularly with the guitars, which are either shredding or galloping their way through the song.

“As Wise As Skywise” marks a descent back into chaos and there’s nothing terribly new here, though the vocals can become a little grating. The major interest of this track derives from its fascinating lyrical structure and story, offering pagan reflections on the Allfather, Woden, describing him in a Tolkienesque way, saying that he sends forth his “thought and memory” to fly the worlds, being limited in his sight. Those familiar with the Norse pantheon will recognize these incarnations as the ravens Huginn and Muninn, who encounter a scarecrow on their journey: “A guarding, tattered meadow man / how can he ever scare / birds of a celestial clan.” When the Scarecrow explains himself as made by man and proudly serving man, the ravens enter into a philosophical discourse on the fallacies of man and his general worthlessness in spite of his growing intelligence, claiming insanity to be “wisdom’s kin”. Woden reminds us near the end of the inevitable undoing of the “midgard land”, alluding to the Scandinavian concept of Ragnarok.

“Raph In Root” ends everything with an ambient sound featuring water, a heartbeat, and crickets.

A very open mind is necessary for getting into this brand of metal. There is plenty of more user-friendly weirdness out there, like Ram-Zet and The Kovenant. Yet for those who can handle this magnificent mish-mash metal, a meshing of Arcturus’ avant-garde output with chaotic black metal and a folk-driven diversity of instrumentation, Web of Wyrd delivers. The talent and innovation of the musicians in combination with the sheer intellectualism and crafting of the poem-lyrics make me hunger for a full-length release. Here's an example:

Down at these meadows yet this day stands our scarecrow ever so tall
Still in man is his faith tho' suspicion is farish within him withall
Foolish or erudite, it’s not for him to decide yet he must agree
That as wise as the 'skywise', man can never be
He can never be

Highs: Masterful lyrical crafting and a well-played, diverse sound create a fresh sound that can potentially interest even the most jaded metalhead.

Lows: Perhaps it’s a mere matter of the release’s production, but at times the vocals, from lead to backing, are nearly inaudible. Two out of the six tracks are a brief intro and an outro.

Bottom line: Web of Wyrd brings beautiful writing, eccentric vocals and folk instruments to the forefront of the avant-garde metal scene.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)