It’s been five years since Mancunian black metal band Wode released their demo tape, and the time since then has evidently not been wasted. There’s been a growing underground buzz leading up to the release of their self-titled album, and rightfully so. Both punishing and majestic by turns, Wode is just shy of fifty minutes of soul-searing black metal, the kind that demands an immediate, physical response whilst also leaving an impression in more abstract ways. Pulling together a host of influences to create something with a distinct identity and purpose, Wode is further evidence of the fine health of black metal from the north of England (alongside the likes of Ninkharsag, Wodensthrone, and Winterfylleth, plus too many more to mention), and is surely set to be one of the highlights of 2016.
The aspect of Wode that’s most apparent on initial listens is the way that the band bring together a variety of clear influences without ever sounding like they are merely copying them. There’s the same kind of sheer power as the likes of Drudkh and Mgla have at their most direct, as well as the epic scope of UK peers Winterfylleth, and even moments that recall the wrongness that Weakling captured on Dead As Dreams. Yet Wode succeed in taking these influences and adding their own character and identity to their music, which becomes more apparent upon repeat listens. There’s no denying the comparisons to bands such as those already mentioned, but nor can the argument be made that Wode are simply aping their inspirations; take a track such as “Cloaked In Ruin”, which both recalls familiar bands without ever sounding like it could be the work of anyone else but Wode. It’s hard to carve out an identity from this sort of black metal, where the guitars and drums are almost ceaseless blurs of activity leaving little space for those shades of character which give a band their identity, but Wode manage it.
What impresses about Wode more than this, though, is the force of conviction and belief the music carries. As strong as each individual element is – be it the barrage of the drums, the captivating quality of the guitars, or the primal force of the vocals (plus bass that can actually be heard – all too rare in black metal of any variety) – to assess Wode in this sense is to somehow miss the point. Instead, it is best considered in terms of the emotional, almost spiritual impact it has, which is where the real strength of the album lies. The physical impact of the record may be most keenly felt on initial listens, but as more time is spent with the album, the taint at the heart of its character becomes more apparent and ensnaring; even the song titles clearly hint at this (“Spectral Sun”; “Cloak In Ruin”; “Black Belief”). Not to say that it’s quite as disturbing as some other black metal out there, but nor is it a (relatively) comfortable journey – when compared to, for example, Winterfylleth, there’s a similar sense of epic grandeur, but also something darker and more malicious. This is best exemplified on “Plagues Of Insomnia”, where the cleaner guitar section only heightens the tension and anxiety of the track. It’s never an easy listen, right up to the final moments of closer “Black Belief”; but nor should it be.
Yet for all of that, Wode is a remarkably addictive album, the kind that can easily be left on for several plays in a single sitting. There are plenty of subtle details to be unearthed amongst the sonic density, but even on a more immediate level it is a hugely thrilling example of modern black metal. This album is not one to sleep on, and more than meets the high expectations I had for it.
Wode is set for release on vinyl (200 black, 100 gold) via Broken Limbs Recordings (North America) and Sell Your Soul Records (Europe), with a cassette version due for release by COF Records (limited to 100 copies). Follow Wode’s Facebook page for details on digital versions.