originally written by Chris McDonald
Wodensthrone‘s Loss was the definition of a breakthrough debut. There was nothing formative or primordial about it — this was the sound of a band fully prepared to make a serious impact on the black metal community, and judging by the amount of hype surrounding the follow-up, that’s exactly what they did. While I personally found it slightly overpraised when it was released — the deep and meticulous compositions were occasionally held back by several meandering segments and a weak vocal performance — I was still highly impressed by the confidence and sheer volume of ideas this UK collective put forth on their first album. It’s been three years since Loss dropped, and Wodensthrone have returned with yet another massive, dense offering of epic black metal. Apparently, these guys don’t take the “less is more” mantra very seriously.
I was actually surprised by how different Curse sounds from Loss. The louder and more bombastic production is perhaps the most immediately noticeable distinction; the muffled guitar tone and thin drum sound of the debut has been replaced by more intense instrumental tones that give this album more of a traditional black metal urgency. I was also very pleased to hear a more commanding and varied vocal presence. The departure of original vocalist Brunwulf has resulted in vocal duties being split between the band’s two guitarists, and the more vicious highs and commanding lows are a great improvement, as are the adept clean vocal passages when they surface. Overall, Curse has a darker, more desperate atmosphere compared to the meditative and grandiose tone of Loss, and it’s a shift that I personally welcome.
While the aura of the music has shifted, the basic ingredients are still fundamentally similar. Wodensthrone‘s delivery is epic in a way that reminds me quite a bit of Moonsorrow — that is to say, these guys have no qualms with layering and combining an abundance of different sounds that both cooperate and compete with one another. But it’s not so much the dense instrumentation as it is the long and demanding nature of the songs themselves that make Curse seem so ambitious. This album took a lot out of me on early spins, and it can be hard to form a quick attachment to any of the songs individually when there’s so much to digest. Absorbing the music as a single entity is a similarly trying affair; at over an hour in length, with three songs running over ten minutes, I initially had a hard time really staying focused on Curse from start to finish. The songs have too many twists and turns to produce the hypnotic effect that I enjoy about other longwinded black metal bands that are more simplistic songwriters, and the lack of emphasis on individual riffs and melodies in favor of a sweeping wall of sound made it harder for me to feel anchored in to what Wodensthrone was doing.
But continued listening allowed me to largely move beyond this issue, and once things began to click into place, I became amazed at the sheer scale and scope of this music. Curse is a sprawling journey that consistently hurls new ideas and motifs at the listener, and the volume of expression Wodensthrone has packed into this album is something to be marveled at. Each track tells its own epic story, with the appropriate thematic accompaniments to match, and the band has done a great job of giving each song its own distinct identity. Tracks like opener “Jormungandr” have more of an aggressive and grave atmosphere, while others like the lengthy closer “The Name of the Win” are founded on a melancholic and introspective approach. The depth in the songwriting is what really moves this album, regardless of the emotional tone of a particular track. Each instrumental performance is riddled with intricacies — the illustrative support of the drumming, the frequent harmonies and subsequent convergences between the guitar tracks, and the restrained but effective keyboards that often surface to provide additional atmospheric underpinning. While the subdued emphasis on specific riffs threw me off at first, I quickly came to love the band’s all-encompassing manner of delivering huge melodies and climaxes.
I have to say, on a purely imaginative level, Curse doesn’t engage me as much as a lot of my favorite recent black metal albums. It’s a bit too grandiose, polished, and scholarly in its execution to create the mental imagery and induce that sense of hypnotic awe that I enjoy so much about other projects. But in this case, this is hardly a big knock on the quality of the music, because I was just as entertained by Curse for the sensational level of craftsmanship that Wodensthrone displays here. The skill and ambition that flows through the material, both in the ground-level songwriting and in all the extra layers they weave on top, makes for an enthralling experience on its own, as does the catchy and memorable nature of the material itself once it get its hooks in. It’s an all-around impressive and accomplished piece of music, and only reaffirms the notion that this outfit will likely be making major waves in the black metal scene for years to come.