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Wolvhammer - "The Obsidian Plains " (CD)

Wolvhammer - "The Obsidian Plains " CD cover image

"The Obsidian Plains " track listing:

1. The Gleaming (6:59)
2. Writhe (7:40)
3. Bones Of The Pious (4:35)
4. Ghosts In The Water (5:46)
5. Shadowhorn (3:46)
6. A Defiled Aesthetic (6:59)
7. The Sentinels (8:20)

Reviewed by on November 30, 2011

"As the year winds to an end, 'The Obsidian Plains' makes the case as one of the better outputs to be released from the genre in recent months."

Black metal is the audio version of pouring salt on a festering wound. Usually, that salt is distributed like water coming out of a faucet. The listener eventually becomes numb to the pain and either passes out or gets off on the sick satisfaction. Wolvhammer’s sophomore record, “The Obsidian Plains,” doesn’t just let the salt flow; the band grabs it by the handfuls and methodically funnels it in synchronized chunks. There’s moments of torture; moments of relief; moments where everything looks to be on the upswing, until that salt is dropped back into the wound.

All these moments are integral to the success of “The Obsidian Plains.” With a line-up including ex-Nachtmystium guitarist Jeff Wilson and ex-Across Tundras drummer Heath Rave, Wolvhammer has paced themselves ahead of the curve with its atmospheric and unsettling black metal. When required, the band can lay down the tremolo guitar riffs and nasty blast beats, but that doesn’t bode well for the band’s ingenious side. It’s when the songs revolve around moody set pieces and excruciating build-ups that the album pushes the envelope.

Wolvhammer does not just write music that could act as a killing soundtrack for coked-up madmen. The band employs clean guitars - not acoustic, though - and has no qualms about using these on almost every song. Sometimes, it’s only for a few seconds (“Writhe”), and other times, it can go on for almost half a song’s running length (“Shadowhorn”). The best use of this is on “Ghosts In The Water,” with its modest intro giving depth to the song before the band shoves that aside for some low-down black metal fury.

None of these songs can be deemed conventional, from the five-minute instrumental opening to “The Sentinels” to the inclusion of cleanly-sung verses on “Shadowhorn.” There may be some mentions of sludge and crust punk elements, but at its core, Wolvhammer is a black metal act. That means plenty of raspy, but understandable, growls from new vocalist Adam Clemans. He does a great job filling the shoes of former vocalist Ryan McKern. “The Obsidian Plains” also has the always-handy Sanford Parker as producer.

“The Obsidian Plains” unleashes its painful howls in well-timed intervals, like the salt being strategically placed on the wound. Like Wilson’s former act, Wolvhammer has its heart in black metal, but its mind in more progressive templates. As the year winds to an end, “The Obsidian Plains” makes the case as one of the better outputs to be released from the genre in recent months.

Highs: Stretches beyond conventional black metal, nice use of subdued guitars on several tracks, a good amount of variety

Lows: Album starts off slow in energy, but picks up by halfway point

Bottom line: Never lacking in ferocity or intensity, "The Obsidian Plains" is a premier cut of black metal.

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)