American black metal has a long and, frankly, somewhat bizarre history. In the most embryonic of stages the bands labelled “black metal” often sounded more like the influential “first wave” European bands than anything their European contemporaries were cooking up at the time. (See: Absu, Usurper, etc.) But as time and scene began to grow the boundaries of black metal, from a worldwide perspective, began to grow and morph as well, stretching what we fans thought the definition of black metal could be. The American black metal scene, never seemingly fully buying in to the corpse-painted “second wave” of European black metal, gladly went along for the ride and what we’ve been left with are bands that are often so progressive and so quick to meld other styles with traditional black metal that again you are asked to re-imagine what black metal could possibly be or become. One of the bands on the forefront of the ever-shifting American black metal scene is Chicago/Minneapolis crew, Wolvhammer.
Wolvhammer are set to release their most recent opus, Clawing Into Black Sun, via Profound Lore Records. Their first two full-length albums saw the band somewhat entrenched in the whole ‘death-n-roll’ style of black metal so many bands find themselves wading in these days. The concept of, “we’ll play black metal the way Motorhead would have played it” is, with brutal honesty, a tired refrain now. Too many bands are taking that three-chord punk ethos and adding some “grim” to it, calling it black metal or whatever they want to call it. However, Wolvhammer are a band that always stand above the masses from a songwriting standpoint. There was always more to their sound to interest the casual metal fan on those first two albums. Maybe there was always a more bitter brand of tenebrosity or murkiness to their sound? Whatever the reasoning Wolvhammer were never a band willing to let their music fall into easy classification, as all great American black metal bands do. Their newest album not only continues that trend but expounds on it tenfold.
Wake up! Can’t you hear the bells toll…
Whenever you start bandying about the term “atmospheric” when talking about black metal what you are essentially saying is, ‘this band has elements in their sound that would better fit someone like Neurosis than Mayhem’. Truly some of the most downright evil albums you will ever hear are the ones that lift the listener into some sort of otherworldly, out of body experience. They have a way of creating entire episodes based on layers and layers of sound that come together like colliding storms wreaking havoc over the oceans. Pure chaos does not always have to be played at a million beats per second. On the contrary taking the time to truly allow a song to spread its wings like a raptor that is lazily sealing the fate of some unsuspecting prey is as gorgeous as it sounds. Wolvhammer have allowed their music to take them to such new heights. There is a pensive sort of mysticism afoot here that slowly eats into the listeners mind like a burrowing snake, leaving behind a trail of dead skin, molted away to reveal a band ready to explore new musical territory as never before.
Should we continue to call this a black metal album, (and it’s probably a wise enough choice to do so) you’d still be hard pressed to not pick up on the sludge, doom, psychedelic, and progressive elements that are all in play. Is it fast and pissed? It can be. Tracks like “In Reverence” for example hold a sort of ground somewhere between Celtic Frost and Goatwhore. While a track like album opener, “The Silver Key”, is reminiscent of some of Satyricon’s best work. Wolvhammer are a band full of possibilities though if they continue to allow their music to take them on wild rides through the dark recesses of their own psyches. They clearly did on this record and it paid some massive dividends.
Clawing Into Black Sun hits the streets on July 8. You can check out the track “Death Division” over at the Profound Lore website.