I'm perfectly willing to wager that by the end of the year, I won't have heard a better record. To me, this one is absolute perfection.
Title: Refractory Obdurate
Label: Deathwish Records
Time: 10 tracks/43 minutes
One way I know I'm listening to music that is at least interesting, if not great, is that I struggle to come up with an apt description of the band's sound. I run into that "problem" when I listen to Wovenhand, especially on their latest release, Refractory Obdurate. The best description I can come up with is "gothic country punk," but even that doesn't capture the full spectrum of what you can hear in this collection of songs.
If you think you know Wovenhand's sound, you might be surprised by this record. There's still plenty of the artsy folk rock that frontman David Eugene Edwards specializes in, but this is probably the heaviest record the band has released to date. Along with the driving rock of "Good Shepherd" and "Field of Hedon," which evoke early 90's L.S.U., there's the chugging death metal riffs of "Hiss," which Edwards manages to craft into anything other than a death metal song. Even the songs that follow Wovenhand's signature sound, like "Corsicana Clip" and "The Refractory," feature heavier guitars than one would expect. Altogether, it creates one of the most musically compelling records I've heard this year.
The nice thing about Wovenhand is that they not only offer up great music, but Edwards writes compelling lyrics that are always steeped in biblical imagery and spiritual truth, often lifting phrases verbatim out of Scripture. This record is no exception. In fact, reading the lyric sheet here often gives me the sensation of perusing a King James translation of the Psalms. "Good Shepherd" rejoices in God's providence (My good shepherd, he does take great delight in me), and the simmering, sinister "Salome" offers a poetic retelling of John the Baptist's execution. There are plenty more spiritual nuggets than I'm able to list in this short review.
I've always told myself that in order for a record to win five tocks from me, it has to be near-perfect, if not altogether perfect. The only real flaw I can find in Refractory Obdurate is that the vocals are too low in the mix and are often double tracked and drenched in reverb. This often makes them indecipherable, but that is easily remedied with a copy of the lyrics. I'm perfectly willing to wager that by the end of the year, I won't have heard a better record. To me, this one is absolute perfection.