You have to love it when you work so damn hard on something for a while, and all of a sudden, without any reason or explanation, things start to gel together in a satisfying fashion. Not in that sort of “right place at the right time” bullshit, but rather the amalgamation of street-level honesty, soul-bearing sincerity, and watching ideas becoming fully realized right before your eyes and hands. Minneapolis/Chicago three-piece (as of the album’s recording) Wolvhammer returns after 2011’s impressive The Obsidian Plains with one helluva follow-up in Clawing into Black Sun. Has the blackened sludge gauntlet been thrown down?
If opener “The Silver Key” is any indication, the answer is a resounding “yes.” The post-rock shimmer of Jeff Wilson’s (ex-Nachtmystium, Abigail Williams) guitar melodies blends incredibly well with drummer Heath Rave’s (ex-Across Tundras) straightforward hammering, leaning the song towards old Killing Joke territory, if at first. But it’s the howling and ichor-drenched vocals of Adam Clemans (Iron Thrones) that catches your attention, his throat-shredding cries blackening the sludge stew just right. Then at 4:14 into the song, it veers into Isis territory with a slowly building rhythm, steadily pounding drums, glistening guitars, and a quiet keyboard hum in the background that, when combined, just encompasses you and refuses to let go, before returning to the blackened swamps from which it came. Very effective stuff.
In fact, most of these songs lean heartily to the post-punk side of things, save for Clemans’s vocals. There’s an eerie, ominous, almost choir-like vocal chant in the title track that enhances the straight-ahead sludge attack. “The Desanctification” recalls latter-day Satyricon without the suck, plodding away slowly but never failing to hold your attention throughout. But it’s the closing track, “A Light That Doesn’t Yield,” that shows the maturity of Wolvhammer and is quite the lithmus test for other blackened sludge bands to follow. A solid, repetitious melody floats atop a rhythmic dirge whereas a clean vocal choir beckons impending pain and sorrow, and ends on a very shimmery build-up that can only be described as both heartbreaking and beautiful in all its gloom and doom, and it also reminds me of another great finishing song (and another Wilson-co-penned classic), Nachtmystium‘s depressing “Every Last Drop” from the Addicts: Black Meddle Pt. 2 album. This is one amazing finale to a great album, and easily one of the best songs I’ve heard all year.
Sadly, while Clawing into Black Sun is a strong album, there are a few quibbles to be had. The production by Dan Jensen can go from warm and thick in some parts, and shiny and painful in others (especially the climax in “A Light That Doesn’t Yield”). There’s also a bit too much repetition in the songs written, which makes the 47-minute album feel a bit longer than it truly is. Still, this is a very addictive record to devour.
Three years have done Wolvhammer a bit of good. Clawing into Black Sun raises the bar for others to attempt to catapult over, and they’ve managed to converge their ideas into a powerful new whole. The gauntlet’s been thrown, kids.