Release DetailsLABEL Profound Lore Records
RELEASED ON 7/8/2014
Wolvhammer's sound is organic and earthy and a great antidote to over-produced “plastic sound” metal.
Clawing Into Black Sunposted on 7/2014 By:
When it comes to black metal, you can fall into one of two camps—the traditionalists (the TRVE) or…pretty much everyone else (the less TRVE). Chicago-via-Minneapolis trio Wolvhammer fall into the less TRVE category, as they mix a generous helping of hardcore and gritty Americana into their metal. Those who like to apply labels have called the music “blackened sludge metal,” but that’s a misleading description. There’s more sludge in my morning coffee than in Clawing Into Black Sun. That’s not necessarily a negative, it just means that those looking for the next Coffinworm should turn elsewhere.
The album opens with eight-and-a-half minute “The Silver Key,” which, while not the best song on the album, effectively showcases everything the band has to offer. Barely overdriven guitars, rock’n’roll drums, raw-but-completely-understandable vocals, an airy production, and understated bass work. If this appeals to you, the forty-five minutes of music here should be just your cup of tea.
Second track “Lethe” is the useless instrumental intro, made with excessive spring reverb and some feedback. Putting it in slot 2 instead of slot 1 doesn’t make it any less disposable. Thankfully, “Death Division” opens up with a tasty little riff laid down by Jeff Wilson and a black’n’roll blast from Heath Rave. The sound is organic and earthy and a great antidote to over-produced “plastic sound” metal. Half-way through the song, though, you start to realize how much Wolvhammer is leaning on basic rock. And I do mean basic. It doesn’t feel goth or stoner or progressive or any other interesting adjective you might want to tag on the front. It just feels like rock with screechy vocals.
The album continues in the same vein with a few variations to keep things interesting. “Slaves to the Grime” features a hardcore style breakdown that segues into a tremolo/blast section with a nice “Waugh!” “The Desanctification” displays more of the Americana arpeggios that we heard on “The Silver Key.” The swaggering “In Reverence” is written in 3/4 time and gets into an almost sludgy slowdown and a hoppy gallop, and “A Light That Doesn’t Yield” uses some clean vocals that were apparently recorded three rooms away and a slow buildup to increase tension. The title track, which closes the album, also uses those clean vocals but manages to feel slightly heavier by finally digging into those chords.
The major thing holding Clawing Into Black Sun back, though, isn’t the simplicity. It’s the guitar tone. Wilson’s guitars barely push the overdrive threshold on his amps, and there’s no real rumble from the bass either. This is why I simply can’t use the word “sludge” to describe Wolvhammer, which feels neither wolfish nor hammering.
Now, dynamics are a great thing. These guitars sound great during tremolo lines like on “The Silver Key” or “Slaves to the Grime” where the sound builds itself into a tasty organic crunch. But when the guitars go slowly, which is often, the heft is simply lacking. Particularly on “A Light That Doesn’t Yield,” where the song builds up to a crescendo and you’re waiting for the guitars to come in with force and…nothing. I can’t help but imagine how much more engaging these songs would sound with a little bit of Tom G. Warrior guitar tone. Hell, I’d even settle for something the slightest bit sludgy. Or take it the other direction and make full-out death rock. But too often Wolvhammer feels caught in the middle without purpose.
This review sounds extremely negative, and I wish it didn’t. Part of me really likes what Wolvhammer is doing, and I keep coming back to tracks like “Death Division” and “Slaves to the Grime.” Unfortunately, the whole album can’t hold my attention for a single sitting. We’ll see if in the future Wolvhammer can turn their guitars up past 5 and give their unique blend of black the teeth it deserves.
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[ADDENDUM: It turns out that the promo that I received for Clawing Into Black Sun featured a different track order than the version that Profound Lore actually pressed. The major difference is that "Death Division" is moved to track 7, and "Clawing Into Black Sun" becomes track 2, putting "A Light That Doesn't Yield" into the album closing slot. The still-skippable "Lethe" is now track 5. I feel that the order I heard the songs in greatly influenced my experience of the album, so I decided to leave my review as it stood. If I had to wait until the end of the album to hear "Death Division," I think my overall impression would have been even more negative. Your results may vary.]