Wovenhand: Refractory Obdurate – Wovenhand has been just under the radar for years now, and it almost seems like they’re trying to keep it that way. Born out of a side project, the group has survived through its metamorphosis, playing with techniques and influences, doing more than enough to keep them interesting though perhaps too much to keep them recognizable. They’ve always had a dark side, and they’ve never shied away from glaring lyrical bravado, but with their newest release, they seem to have redesigned themselves once again, this time truly exposing the depth of their loud, tenebrous roots.
The band has, since the beginning, branded themselves as being unique, and Refractory Obdurate does much to further that image, diving deeper, getting darker and building up that facade of the weird but not inaccessible that gets a bit stronger with every Wovenhand release. This isn’t that inaccessible type of unique, though. It’s not off-putting to listen to, and it’s not so conceptual or self-involved that it can’t be approached by the casual music fan. Rather, it’s a synthesis - a heady, heavy, erratic coming together of influences and ideas that makes a product based in the familiar, but not quite like anything you can put your finger on.
None of this merging-of-worlds is completely new for frontman David Eugene Edwards, mind you. His long-lived earlier ensemble, 16 Horsepower, was known for their merging of brooding rock, thick folk and alt-country sounds. The comparison ends there, though, as Edwards’ obsession with tenacious genre-melting is almost eclipsed by the life this side-project has taken now. Seven albums in, Wovenhand has managed to reimagine themselves with every release such that there almost aren’t any apt comparisons between them and their contemporaries. Certainly other bands and artists have rebranded in similar fashions, but when it comes to the music itself, they have brought together just broad enough of a spectrum as to rightly be able to claim that few if any can do all of the things they do as well as they do.
Refractory Obdurate hones in on just a few of those things, playing with austere poetics and a bellowing, gut-churning sound that feels more in place with post-punk hard rock than anything the band has yet put out. Edwards adds in some not-too-subtle nods to his faith, framing it in the context of mortal folly and wrestling with the innate questions that always seem to float up in that wake of discrepancy between belief and capability. Underscoring that are a series of both organic and turbulent beats that play off of one another from song to song, building slowly and crashing all at once while thick guitar calls to mind the easier and more evident comparisons. Behind the utter bombast, though, the intricacies of Edwards’ natural-born obsession start to come through, with pan-global influences seeping their way into the most hidden recesses of the album; harmonics bleed out from the periphery. Slowly, and ever-so-carefully, the record sets itself up as a reminder that Wovenhand, comfortable enough to feel approachable, is still a force in its own right.
The backing of their own conviction seems to be more than enough for Wovenhand. They’ve known what they’re pulling from and what they’re innovating on since the project first came together. Self-determinate cries are usually a poor hallmark for the world outside, though. For anyone who has any doubt about this particular ensemble, pick up Refractory Obdurate and listen. Listen to it again. Listen until you either love it or loathe it – it’s only going to go in one of those two directions. Regardless of what side you fall on, it will be clear that this band, turbid and distant as their music is, is worth their own reckoning…8.5/10