2016 saw the release of the debut, self-titled, full-length album by Manchester’s Wode. While I never got round to a Thing You Might Have Missed, I was impressed by their vitriol and riffcraft. The arrival of the sequel scarcely a year later afforded me the opportunity to make amends for my prior laziness, so I booted up, strapped in and prepared myself for an auditory annihilation.
While I may trigger the obscure genre aficionados by saying this, I heard Wode as if it were a war metal album. I know this has genre connotations of blackened death metal but I don’t mean it in this way; rather, it was fast, cannoning and vitriolic, an aural representation of blitzkrieg. While Servants of the Countercosmos is still aggressive and mean, it also differentiates itself by featuring more diversity of sound. That was my greatest criticism of the former and this issue is assuredly addressed. The opening chords on “Crypt of Creation” following a short ambient introduction have a vaguely avant-garde tone and a number of riffs further utilize this tone and cyclical guitar-work to forge something far more alluring than anything on the self-titled album. There’s also more temporal variation to split apart the songs — most notably the 9-minute long track called “Chaos Spell” — more breakdowns to achieve the same and a moody, emotive acoustic conclusion on “Undoing.” It’s a confident step forward from Wode and demonstrates a band willing to assess and refresh their own formula.
I also love that Servants only runs for 31 minutes. They take a leaf out of the Slayer playbook by smashing the listener with immediate material and leaving them wanting more. The debut split 48 minutes across just six tracks and while there are still only six here, they’re of a much more satisfying duration. “Chaos Spell” is the exceptional long track but truly justifies itself. I wouldn’t call the writing progressive but it’s certainly dynamic, as it switches between an atmospheric, tremolo-picked lead, neck-ruining ferocity, bouncy drum rhythms and a surprisingly delicate lead and solo in the second half. The aforementioned acoustic conclusion is truly melancholic too. While despondent, it feels on the edge of re-exploding and I half-wish it would. Framing the record with a few minutes of calm while climaxing with “Chaos Spell” ensures Servants tracks a natural course which is satisfying to hear in its entirety.
But the pièce de résistance? Riffs man. Riffs for days (or at least about 28 minutes). Three out of four band members are credited with guitars so I can’t pinpoint a star but maybe it’s this mix which permits such excellence. Scything leads in the vein of Emperor are the focus but death-influenced chugs also appear. These are contrasted effectively by airier, more atmospheric passages too. These three styles occupy about 90% of the music so it’s a good fucking job they’re executed so well. I could list the highlights but it would be a long list and you’d all be bored so just accept that there is a plethora of great riffs here. While we’re on the guitars, some of these solos are unusually eccentric for black metal. Black metal often traps itself in its puritanical aversion to pleasure but these solos offer a welcome shot of sheer fun.
I’m aware that this review has been overwhelmingly positive with no real criticisms to add but that I “only” awarded a 3.5. While Servants shuffles close to the hallowed ground beyond, something intangible holds me back. I’m quite confident it won’t be making my 2017 list even though it is one of best black metal records of the year. The disparity between my description and score was worth addressing as it highlights one of the difficulties with assigning a number in an assessment of art. But don’t let this hold you back from what’s still a highly worthwhile release. At the very least just sit and marvel at that amazing artwork.