Wodensthrone - Curse
Black Metal
8 songs (01:08:47)
Release year: 2012
Reviewed by Charles
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the distinction between the critical and the comforting. This was in part inspired by reading Michael Moorcock’s "Epic Pooh" essay. To risk oversimplifying, Moorcock- a fantasy writer who also performed with Hawkwind and Blue Oyster Cult- lays into the legacy of JRR Tolkein, suggesting that The Lord of the Rings’s dichotomy of noble rural world and thuggish modernity provides the perfect literary rationale for a sort of inward-looking, unchallenging artistic conservatism. A “wouldn’t it be nice to have a tea party in a meadow and ignore everything else that’s going on around us?” mentality, in contrast to the satirical thrust of those writers that engage with and challenge the events unfurling in reality. Unsurprisingly given the connection between fantasy literature and heavy metal, that debate can be easily transposed to our corner of the music world. The striking thing is just how relevant it is. Black metal was once synonymous with boundary-pushing, but the increasing fixation its bands now have on the dim and distant past increasingly feels like a thematic comfort blanket. “Don’t worry about it, just think- our ancestors used to wear woad! How awesome!”

The very existence of “English Heritage Black Metal”, seems apt here. It's a clumsy appellation which I doubt is sanctioned by those it's applied to, but it fits the music of bands like Wynterfylleth and Wodensthrone very neatly. Ignoring the political overtones, to which some are more attuned than others, the concept is just so sentimental. I hate the idea of sentimental metal. And more importantly it’s also unreal. These bands are not clipping their nails with flint scissors and wiping their arses with moss; they are writing flute-y interludes that could come from the soundtrack to Medieval: Total War, and giving themselves pseudonyms like Aethelstan. I suppose what I'm saying is that the righteous outpouring of wrath that made me want to write a "classic" review of a Master album, has been replaced by a series of musings seemingly inspired by watching Time Team.

But here I am again acting like a jerk. The black metal fan’s mantra is, of course, “who cares so long as the music is good?” And surely any reasonable person will agree: there’s nothing that can ruin music so much as any kind of meaningful social or cultural depth. Looked at purely in those terms, Wodensthrone’s Curse is a fine record (look at the score). It has a more melodic and more dynamic sound than on their debut Loss, and a more diverse palette of influences. Opener Jormungandr bears a resemblance to Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk: symphonic BM as it was meant to be played, with the synths as an extra layer in the background, like a sliver of light glinting through a dense flurry of black metal sleet. Indeed, the slower, more melodic moments here can feel somewhat like the climax of Thus Spake the Nightspirit, though tempered by a deeply melancholic sensibility. Indeed on the latter point, those slivers of light are frequently allowed to become a full melodic gleam, as with the lyrical lead guitar lines on- appropriately- First Light. It’s here that another set of influences is particularly obvious: the lovely pastoral prog-folk of bands like Fen.

Herein may lie the counterargument to the first two paragrpahs: these folksy elements make all the difference to Curse. Perhaps because of the more developed sense of melody that they convey, the songwriting benefits from a great deal of dyanmism. Look at The Great Darkness, for example, which opens very mysteriously, but builds skilfully into some of the heaviest blasting on the record, kicking into a truly monstrous Emperor-evoking riff on 3:18. Closer The Name of the Wind is the ultimate expression of this- an absorbing 13 minute trek through emotionally-charged melodic lines and rich harmonies. In these protracted build-ups, conducted over the space of protracted songs, can be found a further influence- the meditative minimalism of current USBM- but with a (thankfully tasteful) fixation for synth strings giving it a very definite North European accent.

In my view Curse is probably going to go down as one of British black metal’s highpoints, certainly of the last and coming few years. Admittedly, the field is hardly as stellar as in some other places, but that’s saying something nonetheless. It is the sound of a band carefully and wisely choosing ideas and influences to blend together, into a whole that at times borders on the sublime. Despite all this, it also feels like a nostalgic record- in fact it most obviously and explicitly is one, even if it’s a nostalgia for a time that nobody alive has ever experienced. You might say that nostalgia is a strength, and it is the sense of time and place that gives Wodensthrone’s music much of its character. Nonetheless, the increasing sentimentality in black metal is a trait which I find slightly perturbing. Hopefully Curse will be its high-point after which we can all move on.

Killing Songs :
First Light, Battle Lines, The Name of the Wind
Charles quoted 85 / 100
Other albums by Wodensthrone that we have reviewed:
Wodensthrone - Loss reviewed by Alex and quoted 92 / 100
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