Wolvhammer wants to mess you up. On its second album, this Minneapolis / Chicago collective seethes with a barely contained malevolence and a passionately ill-tempered delivery. The base of the band’s sound is black metal, but a disintegrated and unmistakably urban black metal that crashes Scandinavia’s party with a spiked punchbowl of crusty, sludgy hardcore and lurching post-punk. Genres be damned, though: Wolvhammer’s principal instrument is spite, and throughout The Obsidian Plains that spite is wielded with both the precision of a surgeon and the reckless abandon of a man with a gut full of pills and nothing to lose.
Wolvhammer is hardly the fastest, heaviest, or most technical band vying for your ear-space, but these guys succeed because of how hard they sell it. Their debut album from last year, Black Marketeers of World War III, was already a fiercely impressive monument of caustic ill will, but The Obsidian Plains bests it easily in all conceivable ways. On Black Marketeers the band sounded angry; here it sounds hungry. That’s an important difference. And yet, there is subtlety. If you listen to the last minute or so of “The Gleaming” and squint your eyes just right, you might recognize that drum beat and the plaintive guitar upstrokes as some kind of funereal disco, or a dance party bathed in concrete. At least, the type of party at which one might find a celebrant howling “I have in mind a conspiracy / To ruin everything I touch.”
The Obsidian Plains revels in the same kind of bleak and grimy urban atmosphere that gave Tombs’s Path of Totality such an overwhelming density. In fact, some of the album’s most effective sections emerge from a figurative confrontation between urban corrosion and naturalistic beauty. The extended dirge section in the middle of “Writhe” is a perfect example – the music slows, and provides space for subtle layers of distant guitar to come to the fore. The hulking entirety of a great city pauses ever so briefly as a soft dusting of snow falls, an ephemeral attempt by natural forces to soften the jagged corners of an artificial anti-Eden. Just as such a dusting of snow is inevitably melted or blackened by steam from subway grates and the gnawing, clotted warmth of a thousand buzzing neon signs, the full force of Wolvhammer’s attack dashes those fleeting melodies in a bruising sprint to the inevitable end.
Album closer “The Sentinels” is a moody, windswept piece throughout its first four minutes before passing through a mire of feedback to create a bleakly triumphant denouement of cascading rhythms and defiant yet resigned sentiments: “We are the watchers of this pathetic world… We are the torchbearers / We are the sentinels.” The post-rock guitar tremolos keep trying to spiral upward in an escape trajectory, but the relentless rhythmic battery and subterranean clanking of the bass refuse to let them go until finally the band hits a full-stop and everything is an echo of silence. It is a remarkable song that brings fitting closure to a tremendous album that casts a sophisticated spell largely through crude and unpolished gestures. Excellent signings are such a commonplace thing for Profound Lore these days that it’s easy to let them pass one by, but please don’t sleep on this record, thou seekers of 4:00 AM filth and 9:00 AM regrets.