Scene: a thousand lonely apartments, overflowing with vinyl records and copies of Lords of Chaos. A short ding signals the arrival of an email, and one thousand hands click open the press release for two thousand eyes to read. Close ups of faces in shock, bafflement, horror. These intrepid freelance writers flee en masse to twitter. A Wovenhand album? On Deathwish Inc? The thought is almost too much to bear. Some collapse, others weep openly. Surely strange days are upon us. Let these new masters have mercy.
Perhaps I am overselling the shock, but to see Refractory Obdurate by neo-folkie David Eugene Edwards released on a label known primarily for hardcore is still a strange maneuver. But it makes sense. Intentionally or not, his work in Wovenhand slots in with the forward-thinking bands like Deafheaven and Self Defense Family that Deathwish has been releasing lately. For the new audience sure to pick up on his apocalyptic Christian tunes, Refractory is a fantastic entrance point, a gutpunch of a rock album that layers his typical mandolin-banjo strums with distorted guitars and a pummeling rhythm section. I never expected to say this, but it kicks ass.
“Good Shepherd” provides a clear illustration of this purpose. Over a rollicking tom roll and chugging bass, Edwards howls and intones every line, pulling 15 syllables out of simple words and providing high-kicking guitar solos rich in flange. The result half Tom Petty, half Current 93 – a dark and twisted take on arena rock with some push-pit-ready energy for good measure. I can’t say this is what I expected, but I’m happy it’s what I got.
Elsewhere he steers the band toward the plodding and downbeat, but at full volume, investing every word with holy purpose. “The Refractory” and “Salome” rely heavily on counterpoint textures of metamorphosed guitar for their punch, filling the frame beneath Edwards’s caterwauling. In fact, a good amount of Refractory’s success could be pinned on these players, particularly Ordy Garrison’s poly-rhythmic drums. They hold back when necessary, executing small guitar licks or slight crescendos to echo Edwards’s fire, rather than just underline. Understatement is the game here, with each player executing its role without overshadowing the group.
But that isn’t to say Refractory is a quiet thing. Rather, each part deserves to be in the frame. Edwards worked so long in a stripped-back format that he seems to appreciate now just how much he can graft onto a song, or what each composition needs to be successful. By pinballing between rockers like “Field of Hedon” and the acoustic dirge of “Obdurate Obscura,” he both executes his range and shortens the distance between each end, demonstrating them as part of some larger whole. All are of the same substance, same ultimate thought and intention, but found through different expressions. Hopefully with Edwards’s new label and wider fan base, others will find that same thing too.