The listening experience for all things bleak and austere is dominated by the realm of black metal. The desolate aural landscape of what we associate to be black metal is cold and uninviting, setting the stage dime-a-dozen black metal bands and the foreboding nature of the music. The atmosphere of the genre saturates the scene, and runs through its core. Here at Heavy Blog, we pride ourselves for seeking the kind of music that moves the genre forward. We have an immense appreciation for bands that forego the basic principles of black metal and pursue a sound of revitalization, experimentation or angle a new approach emotionally. However, the progress of the genre isn’t the endgame for artists. For many, the Ghost of Norway’s Past is the only kind of song that has ever rung “trve”. The traditional black metal approach still courses through the veins of an immeasurable audience that we can often take for granted, especially in the renaissance of classic post-black metal, blackgaze, symphonic black metal and the blackening of other adjacent genres.
Enter Wolvhammer, a band entrenched in a traditional black metal sound, refreshing the formula with a basic Crust and D-beat angle, present in guitar tone mostly. This has made their songwriting less derivative, a new dynamic to give it some height on top of its contemporary, traditional, black metal roots. The Obsidian Plains and Clawing Into the Black Sun are hallmarks for blackened crust, staples of the micro-genre and back-to-back obscure gems across the board for black metal fans. Their penchant for mid-tempo headbangers seeped in distortion, and D-beat drumming in place of the standard blast beat lead to a sound faithful to the aesthetic of tradition, yet reinvigorating in structure and aggression. The dynamic was fresh, without being overtly furious or dense.
Their fourth full length, The Monument of Ash & Bone doesn’t feel inclined to pursue the type of tactical and dynamic blackened crust that worked so well for them in the past. Instead, it opts to try and be a more organic and performative piece of black metal. While this album has its moments, it ultimately comes off as homogenized and one-dimensional. Their affinity with being mid-tempo makes the songs seem longer than they should here, instead of creating a natural environment for slow and fast parts to play off each other on a whim. They lean on this performative approach and repeat the same riffs over and over, creating song structures that just don’t compliment their style. This isn’t a band that can play a passive style of music, and while there might be some ebb and flow in these tracks in a studio or live environment, here it comes off as a rudimentary jam session. They just simply don’t get the mileage out of these riffs that they probably felt like they did.
On the other hand, there’s no inherent fault in the deviation from their formula that they have more or less perfected. The atmosphere and bleak nature of the music is preserved. While it’s not an entirely memorable listen like its predecessors, it’s still distinctly Wolvhammer. Growing and exploring as a band is essential and it’s clear this album is a passion project. When the emotional breadth of your music is so ingrained in how it sounds and not specifically what the music does, or how it’s structured, it hardly becomes a deal breaker when the formula diverges. The album still manages to maintain unrelenting catharsis and fury, standing out on its own as a good example of the allure of black metal.
That being said, The Monuments of Ash & Bone does feels like a misstep of sorts, but it’s far from being a harbinger marking the end for the band. The album is fine. Completely listenable and fully realized. It’s just not going for the throat. In the context of being a visceral and physical experience, Wolvhammer still create a suffocating and austere album. The musical experience to be had with this album is just a lot different than what we’ve come to expect from the band and falls in line with many of their contemporaries rather than being an essential cut above.
The Monuments of Ash & Bone was released on May 4th. You can grab it from the band’s Bandcamp above.