Hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Wolvhammer made waves back in 2011 with crusty black metal gem The Obsidian Plains, cementing them as rising shadows in the scattered-by-geography but increasingly lethal United States black metal scene. The urban sewers have once more burst their manhole covers, expelling the foul sounds and feelings of Clawing Into Black Sun into the hot summer air of 2014. Formed in 2008, Wolvhammer could be said to still be finding its developmental feet. Compared with some of the veterans plying the trade of heavy metal these days, this blackened enclave from the great Midwest may still have some hurdles to clear when it comes to proving their durability. Clawing into Black Sun is their all-important third album, and their second for label extraordinaire Profound Lore Records.
Wolvhammer describe themselves as sludgy black metal, and while this is a fairly apt description, they incorporate elements to their music that speak of a certain upward mobility in dynamics and styles. Unlike some of the more conservative black metal bands from across the ocean, Wolvhammer bludgeon the listener in different ways, all of which revolve around the concept of utter battery, but are delivered at a variety of tempos.
One way in which Clawing Into Black Sun differs from its predecessors is in the clarity of production. This is a good thing here, in no way diminishing the heaviness and overall effect of the music. Opener "The Silver Key" begins with some introspective notes before blasting off at high velocity, sounding like what might happen if Nachtmystium and the first two Samael albums had a baby that was raised in a windowless basement and given human blood instead of formula. Wolvhammer is adept at slowing down their songs without causing them to grow boring. Some heavy, bluesy riffing is underpinned by highly competent drumming and some stellar sample effects. Despite some longer track times, Wolvhammer attack with their tempo changes, having an excellent sense of when its time to pour the speed back on after oozing out the sludgy parts. At the conclusion of "The Silver Key," one feels like a journey has just been undertaken; obstacles overcome and triumph achieved. So much so that the listener may be surprised that there is an entire album ahead to enjoy.
The title track is a classic in the making. Beginning with a martial slowness, its first verses are sung clean. It then marches along like an anthem. The verses and chorus will raise this song to new heights live. When Wolvhammer blasts along on this album their sound once again is highly reminiscent of early Samael. I mention it again because this is such a vicious and rarely heard sound these days. Wolvhammer absorb it into the blackened halo of their sound and use it as a platform to carve their identity out quite nicely. "Slaves to the Grime" (I hope this was entitled as a parody of Skid Row's famous Slaves to the Grind) features some vicious lyrics that seem to be aimed at society's leeches. It is a serious blast of black metal and stands toe to toe with the genre's finest.
A few songs on here lack the tremendous impact of the first three, but when the bar is immediately raised this high, it is not an easy task to keep it there. Wolvhammer pull it all together though, as they have achieved a balance and a sound which is truly pissed off and more insidious than rusted metal shards dragged across flesh. Where the middle of the album plateaus a bit, the latter half drills into your brain cavity with the excellent "Death Division" and "A Light That Doesn't Yield." The former's war metal bravado speaks of something God Dethroned might churn out, while the latter crawls out of the speakers, flowing like congealing blood with a slow heaviness and riffs made of molten rock. Halfway through it becomes much more plaintive, yet no less engaging. Not content to leave us with such peaceful sounds, the vocals build up once again as the lead guitar follows the riffs in dreamlike progression. The song's conclusion is a towering majesty of sound, showing Wolvhammer is far more than the crust and battery they do so well. Clawing Into Black Sun is another flagstone in the growing wall of terror being erected by American black metal bands. Wolvhammer has arrived, and they're filthy and pissed off. You should let them in.