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Review for 'Wodensthrone - Curse'
From time to time, each one of Black Metal's subgenre's benefits from a sudden breath of fresh air, even the diverse and boundless subgenre that is Pagan Black Metal, which in essence can qualify as a breath of fresh air itself from the parent genre's more traditional roots. More to the point, what is occasionally needed is for a band to release an album at just the right place and at just the right time, not necessarily original, but of an excellent quality nonetheless, in order for it to leave the lasting impression that it deserves.
Luckily for British Pagan Black Metal band Wodensthrone, the release of their second full length album Curse recently in April 2012 coincided with a year that so far has proven to be somewhat lacking in outstanding Pagan Black Metal albums from the subgenre's main driving forces. Furthermore, it is also a boost for the British Black Metal scene in general which to be honest, although teeming with many great Black Metal bands, isn't exactly abundant with well-known and more established Black Metal acts in comparison to the likes of Scandinavia, Germany or France. Wodensthrone seem determined to change this.
This aforementioned shortage of noteworthy Pagan Black Metal albums for 2012, highlighted by legendary Ukrainians Drudkh not really being able to deliver the five-star album that the community was expecting with Eternal Turn Of The Wheel, has allowed all of the attention to come to rest upon Wodensthrone's Curse. Well, at least all of my attention, that is. I don't really care about what everyone else has been paying attention to.
Curse fully deserves every second of this attention, because while it doesn't exactly innovate or create anything new, it is a truly fantastic album from start to finish, feeling both polished and natural in equal amounts. These two qualities allow all of it's inherent freshness to really shine through. Don't worry, I'll try to not use the word "fresh" any more during this review. I haven't had the pleasure of listening to their first album, Loss, so I can't really compare Curse to anything else Wodensthrone has done before.
When I say polished, I'm referring to the production quality and the song structures. While these are normally two separate concepts, they really do complement each other on Curse, because the decent production allows for all the rich variety present in the guitar-work and the faint background synths to stand out as each song subtly evolves and occasionally changes direction. If you are worried that this might sound like an over-mastered and digitalized Dimmu Borgir album with a transparent production that is void of atmosphere, think again. While the production is clean, it's up to the listener to pay attention to what's going on, because the guitars and faint background synths are about as multi-layered as they come, and this is where the natural part of the album comes in. In fact, if you take the core multi-layered aspect of the guitars, put an additional couple of layers of synths, samples and other details on top of that, and blend it all together with some fantastic drumming and a magnificent shared vocal performance, the end result is the musical equivalent of a flowing river.
After a brief but pleasant intro, you will be met by the album's opener "Jormungandr", and you will be forgiven for thinking that, while great in it's own right, the music it contains isn't really as rich and multi-layered as I have made it out to be. Be patient, for it will gradually begin to dawn on you and just when your mind is uncovering the song's hidden depths, shortly after the half-way mark the song will suddenly reveal a whole new dimension as if the songwriters had intentionally timed it to the second. Basically, from this moment on you will be pulled along by the flowing river that is Curse, constantly at the mercy of it's hidden depths and discovering new dimensions on each song.
Curse features a total of eight tracks including the short introduction, three of which easily surpass the 10-minute mark, titled "First Light", "Battle Lines" and "The Name Of The Wind". It's these long tracks that really stand out, giving Wodensthrone plenty of time to prove just how good they are at writing great songs, evolving structures and perfectly timed shifts in direction, all the while creating an ethereal atmosphere of ancient pagan wonder. The backbone of Curse, as is the case with all great Black Metal albums, are the guitars. They are handled by Chris "Rædwalh" Walsh and Richard "Wildeþrýð" Brass who do a more than professional job of driving the album forward showcasing a wide range of guitar styles, with both guitarists also sharing vocal duties.
The drumming is also excellent, varied and perfectly fitting for each song. Needless to say, the synths and keyboards played by Michael "Árfæst" Blenkarn are also perfectly fitting, and are reminiscent of the perfect keyboard performance on Negură Bunget's Om. Curiously, Rædwalh, Wildeþrýð and Árfæst also form part of British Industrial / Ambient Black Metal band The Axis Of Perdition, and although the latter is musically unrelated to Wodensthrone is all but highlights their musical talent.
I apologize but I'm going to have to repeat myself slightly. There really are a lot of things going on musically on Curse, but this does not mean that it is chaotic in any way. Returning to the river metaphor, the music is always flowing in the same general direction, but also full of hidden surprises when you take a closer look. A more accurate way of describing it would be saying that it gives the impression that there are at least 10 musicians playing in perfect harmony in some passages. This album is multi-layered. It has layers. The layers are multiple. I think you get it. As with all albums that share these characteristics, it allows Curse to be thoroughly enjoyed time and time again, never losing it's "edge" no matter how many times you listen to it. Did I mention it is multi-fucking-layered?
As a finishing touch, the guys behind Wodensthrone were feeling so generous they packed the album full of nice details too. I won't reveal too much but I'll just mention that violins, pipes, flutes and all the intriguing sounds and ambience that you would expect to hear if you ventured back in time to the pagan British Isles make memorable appearances throughout, but not outstaying their welcome for one second.
In essence, Wodensthrone's Curse is a more than welcome addition to any Pagan Black Metal fan's collection, and will surely stand the test of time as one of Britain's best Pagan Black Metal albums, as well as giving Wodensthrone the attention that they deserve. And now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to order their other album.
What other albums sound similar to this?
While it is never wise to suppose something without factual evidence, I think it's safe to say that the same musical brilliance found on Curse should also be found on Wodensthrone's first album, titled Loss, released in 2009. I will verify this once I have listened to it personally. Meanwhile, be sure to check out Wodensthrone's closest musical relatives, fellow Englishmen Winterfylleth. Winterfylleth have so far released two full length albums, The Ghost Of Heritage in 2008 and The Mercian Sphere in 2010, and they are set to release their third album, The Threnody Of Triumph in September 2012. If you like Wodensthrone, then you will also like Winterfylleth just as much.
Other bands worth mentioning in the same paragraph as Wodensthrone or Winterfylleth are Wilt and Wolves In The Throne Room, two U.S Pagan / Ambient Black Metal bands featuring a similar atmosphere in their music, although in a somewhat more elongated and minimalistic fashion. Also check out the Om album by Romanian legends Negură Bunget, Whisperers to this Archaic Growth by fellow Britons Nhor, and the Microcosmos album by Ukrainians Drudkh if you haven't already.
In a nutshell...
Wodensthrone's Curse is one of the most refreshing albums of 2012, being so packed full of musical goodness, exceptional songwriting, subtle changes in the song structures, dozens of small surprises, a talent for perfectly blending multiple layers of guitars and a magical pagan atmosphere that you could listen to it dozens of times and still find something new with each listen, or otherwise fully enjoy what you have already learnt by heart. When all of Curse's underlying complexity eventually sinks in, it will undoubtedly remain as one of the most memorable Pagan Black Metal albums you have listened to in recent times. Quite simply, it's fucking brilliant. Congratulations Wodensthrone, you are awesome.
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