Currently at the unlikely crossroads of doom metal and alt-country rests singer-songwriter David Eugene Edwards, a pioneer in the fringe genre of Gothic Americana. With roots in more sonically-traditional folk outfit 16 Horsepower in the 90’s, Edwards’ penchant for minor-key melodies and somber, washed-out aesthetic lead the musician to adopt sounds that were truly “heavy” within the context of country/western music. Throughout the years, Edwards would have a turn in legendary Australian post-punk outfit Crime & The City Solution, 16 Horsepower would dissolve, and Edwards would pursue a new full-time passion project, Wovenhand.
From the beginning, Wovenhand were free to experiment with tones that 16 Horsepower were perhaps too afraid to use; Wovenhand were atmospheric and prominently featured distorted guitars juxtaposed against acoustic tribal percussion tones. The songs were dark and ethereal in nature, haunting against Edwards’ wailing apocalyptic sermons. Slowly, Wovenhand would trudge further towards the massive sounds of punk and doom with each passing album, coming to finally completely embrace this “cowboy doom” style on 2015’s Refractory Obdurate. Engineered and produced by prolific sludge and black metal producer Sanford Parker and released on Converge frontman Jacob Bannon’s Deathwish, Inc label, Refractory Obdurate was a massive record that captured the spirit of a band that was finally fully-realized in a long-awaited evolutionary inevitability. It was unique in its presentation of American folk through a haze of stargazing psychedelia and fuzzy guitar tones, garnering the band comparisons to Earth and Swans.
Given the record’s success in breaking Wovenhand out into a new audience, it would surprise no one to see Edwards and Co. exploring this avenue further with their 2016 follow-up, Star Treatment. What is surprising is that somehow, Wovenhand have come to perfect their sound and craft a record that feels worn-in and comfortable with itself despite its peculiarities and self-contradictory nature. As its title implies, Star Treatment is cosmic take on folk, with the band returning to Sanford Parker’s studio for a huge production that shrouds the music in a stoned-out psychedelic fuzz that compliments the band’s tribal mysticism and post-punk grooves.
This is a record that’s grounded with earthy acoustic tones but has its eyes pointed towards the sky and its head in the clouds. The tracks “Come Brave” and “The Hired Hand” for instance feature stomping up-tempo blues-rock grooves. “Crook and Flail” builds psychedelic loops over drones and Eastern melodies. “Golden Blossom” is Edwards’ turn at a more traditional love song, and is a genuine album highlight due to its brightness. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Swaying Reed” is a creeping soundscape that takes Wovenhand to a place not dissimilar to Earth’s classic The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull.
It’s this marriage of tribal folk, Americana, and post-rock that gives Star Treatment an air of mysticism, and coupled with Edwards’ devout Christianity bleeding freely into his evocative lyricism and wailing preacher vocal style, there’s an esoteric spirituality present that in itself makes Star Treatment worth whatever price of admission. In this light, Wovenhand’s fascination with stars and space can be interpreted as going hand-in-hand with the promise of an afterlife and divine purpose. The atmosphere of Star Treatment does lend itself well to the creeping promise of death, but with the comfort of knowing there’s something else beyond our own scope of existence.
After Refractory Obdurate, it was hard to imagine Wovenhand wearing their niche further, but Star Treatment is an important evolutionary step not just for Edwards and Wovenhand, but for each genre represented within. Edwards has made great strides in proving country/western music’s worth in both its traditional form and for potential in fusion styles. In a vacuum however, Star Treatment sports addicting grooves, haunting atmospheres, and an experimental spirit that makes for the group’s most adventurous (and heavy) album to date.