Album Review: WOLVHAMMER - The Monuments of Ash & Bone
The press material says it’s been four years since the previous album, Clawing into Black Sun. Metal’s very own Wikipedia, Metal-archives.com, reveals the same thing. But shit, it sure as hell doesn’t feel like it’s almost been half-a-decade since Wolvhammer’s last full-length. However, all the touring miles they racked up alongside Shining, 1349, Origin, Taake, Revenge and Young And In The Way—seems like the band has a penchant for controversial touring partners.
There was the instant profile bump that occurred when vocalist Adam Clemans joined Skeletonwitch kept people talking. The addition of bassist and Johnny Appleseed-ing, road-dogging chatterbox, Andrew Garrity kept the conversation alive amongst behind-the-scenes movers and shakers. Put it this way: other bands would kill to maintain the sort of street buzz that’s surrounded Wolvhammer four years after a record.
While it’s a stretch to say this cross-country band is at the forefront of USBM simply on name and popularity, their inside track is presenting albums as different snapshots in time. Call it progression if you will, but The Monuments of Ash & Bone offers a different shade of black than the linearity of Clawing into Black Sun and the rickety hardcore and crust/D-beat overtones of the band’s first two records, 2011’s The Obsidian Plains and 2010’s Black Marketeers of World War III.
In addition to the production being both raw and crisp, there’s maturity at work here. Wolvhammer still goes for the throat. Still, the killer instinct is antithetic to the past. It’s like comparing a drunken yahoo indiscriminately pumping off a sawed-off shotgun blast in hopes of hitting their target and an experienced serial killer methodically stalking prey and choosing a discrete setting before allowing their demons to run amok.
When “Eternal Rotting Misery” kicks in, the advancements are obvious. No longer does the band sound like its falling apart at the seams. The rhythms are laser-sighted, the vocals possess a munitions dump combustibility and the main riff ranges from tightly wound and compact to majestically spacious with a flick of guitarist’s Jeff Wilson and John Porada’s wrists. Imagine a grittier, more street-wise Behemoth or a more punk rock Immortal—then you're getting the idea. The half-time middle section and …And Justice for All-like dynamic turn is bound to ignite all sorts of surly activity and borderline fisticuffs down front at future gigs.
From there, the album takes a turn towards the sophisticated. If Celtic Frost and Enslaved copulated, the result would be the martial pulse ‘n’ stomp and acid rock solo displays in “Law of the Rope” and “Call Me Death.” Add some grindcore-ish blasting to the former and a creepy-crawly mid-section (complete with haunted vocal croak) to the latter and memories of the unstable Wolvhammer of old are shaken off. “Bathed in Moonblood and Wolflight,” in addition to being one of the best song titles of the year, has a riff that barrels in at the halfway point and moves its blackened, borderline goth-metal central theme into the realm of a young and unhinged Scott Kelly doing some sort of elegantly twisted classic rock.
The album’s second half has an issue with songs tending towards less infectiousness and risky. Case in point, “The Failure King;” it pulls itself away from black metal directness with a riff bereft of deeper imagination. “Dead Rat Rotting Raven” is surprisingly standard and sounds like it was written as a last-minute addendum. Album closer, “Solace Eclipsed” redeems any and all misgivings, however. It’s an ambitious piece with church steeple vocals doing a baritone croon over sawing strings before epic twists and turns around Morbid Tales pummelling and Below the Lights caresses. The song is one that, after listening back to the band’s previous releases, would have hardly seemed possible five or six years ago. Assuming it was even a consideration.
On a macro level, this is Wolvhammer today. The elements which brought them this far remain. A broader scope and sense of adventure have opened up new possibilities, sculpting the band with depth instead of fleeting cosmetic changes.