(Here’s Andy Synn‘s take on the new album by long-time NCS favourites Woman Is The Earth, whose new album is released tomorrow on Init Records)
They say, whoever “they” are, that bands are supposed to mellow as they get older.
And while, certainly, this is true in many cases (the new Wolves In The Throne Room, for example, which I almost wrote about instead of this one, definitely feels that little bit more reflective and restrained, and all the better for it) it doesn’t seem like anyone bothered to tell Black Hills trio Woman Is The Earth, as their new album – their first full-length release since 2016’s Torch Of Our Final Night, and their first release of any kind since 2017’s Thaw EP – is more than a match for anything they’ve done before, and proof that their last few years spent in the musical wilderness haven’t dampened their inner fire.
In fact, if anything, the band’s black flame burns even brighter than ever on Dust of Forever, which finds them paring back their more “Atmospheric” inclinations in favour of an even more furious and frenetic approach to Black Metal which, while still not lacking in its own particular/peculiar sense of atmosphere and ambience, feels like a significant step up in both aggression and intensity.
Take the frantic, almost feral, drumming of Jon Martin, for example, which immediately makes one hell of an impression as soon as the album kicks in.
From the deluge of delirium-inducing blasts which opens “Emerald Ash” to the torrential rain of hammering kicks which drives “Face of Snakes”, his performance behind the kit is one of the most visceral and volatile which I’ve heard all year, demonstrating both a rawness and a recklessness which separates him from the almost automaton-like precision of many of his peers, while also showcasing a keen grasp of just when to pull back (the middle of “Breath of a Dying Star” being a perfect example) and let the gloomy grandeur of the music breathe and speak for itself.
It’s not just the drums, however, which make an instant impact. The guitar work of Andy Martin and Jarrod Hattervig (who also handles the majority of the vocals) also showcases a much more focussed and ferocious side of the band, with the duo’s cavalcade of writhing riffs and live-wire tremolo melodies (which, on more than one occasion, transition seamlessly into a soaring, stratosphere-scraping solo) filling tracks like “Through A Beating Heart” and “Spiritual Rot” with enough electrifying energy and propulsive bombast to power an entire city block.
But while the trio have definitely upped the ante when it comes to pushing the more pure and unadulterated Black Metal side of their identity to the forefront, that doesn’t mean they’ve completely abandoned all sense of atmosphere or melody (or dynamic) in the process.
“Crystal Tomb”, for example, shimmers as much as it scorches, its caustic vocals and cascading drums offset by a seething stream of gleaming tremolo and crystalline melodies, while “The Rope Gets Tighter” balances eruptions of jarring dissonance and passages of brooding, atonal atmospherics in equal measure.
Even the aforementioned “Through A Beating Heart” – which thunders along at a blistering, blast-driven pace akin to Der Weg Einer Freiheit at their most punishing – still finds time to explore a series of doomier, more dramatic shifts in tone and texture reminiscent of melancholy maestros Woods of Ypres.
Perhaps what I appreciate most about this album, and hopefully you will too, is that it manages to be both an instant hit of adrenaline and a surprisingly nuanced slow-burner, quickly roping you in with its immediacy and intensity, and then steadily unfolding unexpected layers of depth and subtlety the more that you listen to it.
It’s definitely an album I’m going to be coming back to again, and again, as the rest of this year (and beyond) goes by, and I’m pretty confident that by the time December rolls around it will have firmly established itself on many a year-end list, outlasting many of its more famous peers and competitors along the way.
Very impressive. As you say, both frenetic and shimmering, both desperate and hopeful, raging and wistful. I haven’t quite heard anything like it. It almost sounds like it should be a blackgaze album (I mean that as a compliment) but instead it has many of the best qualities of the best blackgaze out there while being a ton heavier.
Dead on there – if they’d JUST focussed on that glimmering melodic atmosphere you can hear/sense around the edges then it definitely would have fallen into the “Blackgaze” camp a lot more, but then they amped it up with a much rawer and beefier attitude, which makes for an interesting dichotomy to my ears.