Today the Canadian atmospheric black metal band Wilt and their label Vendetta Records are releasing a new album named Huginn (though some purists may prefer to label it an EP). It comes as something of a surprise, since it wasn’t preceded by a single or advance publicity, but it is a very welcome surprise.
It’s certainly a welcome development here, as anyone would know who has come across our previous writings about Wilt’s music, including our comments about their 2015 debut album Moving Monoliths or our review of their second album Ruin in 2018. To pick out just a few choice words from the latter:
“[T[he masterful blending of dark metallic melody and dreamlike serenity found on Ruin makes a very good case that this undeniably talented (though underwhelmingly named) Canadian quintet deserve serious consideration as potential heirs to Agalloch’s vacant mantle (pun very much intended). Of course it’s not so much that Wilt sound exactly like Haughm, Dekker, and co., it’s more that the group’s sombre, evocative style examines and explores many of the same musical themes and ideas, although never in exactly the same way”.
Five years on from Ruin, and Agalloch have reassembled themselves, but Wilt have returned as well. These haven’t been five good years for the world at large, and all the dire and dreadful experiences they delivered have influenced what you will hear on Huginn. Here is what Wilt have told us about it:
“When we were writing the album, we watched the news and were very angry about what was going on. Fires caused by humans. Atrocities committed by our government, and so on. But despite all the tragedies and grievances, we have the resilience to get through it.”
You’ll see that those words refer to the subject matter of each of the three longer-than-average songs that make up Huginn. All together, they create a thoroughly captivating and cathartic 25 minutes of music, ranging in power from moments of fragile beauty and solitudes of sorrow to sweeping storms of fire and fury. By turns hypnotic and harrowing. it’s dark music in all its many phases, but (to borrow again from our review of Ruin) “rich in both atmospheric ambience and raw emotion”.
True to its name, the opener “Cloaked in Ash” is a musical gaze across a fire-charred landscape blanketed in ash. There’s a wistful and forlorn feeling to the slow ringing melody that opens the experience, but a more desolate mood in the heavy scraping chords that drag the music forward over thumping beats, and certainly in the serrated edge of tormented screams. The music is immersive, hypnotic, and even soulfully beautiful, but unmistakably caught in the throes of anguish.
As a slow build, the song also becomes increasingly expansive and intense as it proceeds. The lead guitar grows shrill in its trilling and wailing tones, swirling high above the crash and crush in the low end, but it also glimmers, poignant in its grief.
The following song, “1831“, shows a different octane of Wilt‘s emotional fuel. We don’t know with certainty, but the date may refer to the beginning of a period lasting more than 150 years when (per this source) the Canadian government “separated some 150,000 Indigenous children from their families and forced them to attend the Christian boarding schools in an effort to assimilate them into Canadian society. Thousands of children died of disease and other causes, and the Canadian government has acknowledged that physical and sexual abuse was rampant at these schools”.
The song rages from the beginning, drums in a thundering gallop, the music raking the senses, the vocals burning in their intensity. There’s a feeling of desperation and pain in the melody, and sensations of degradation, heartbreak, and gloom when the pacing slows, though the scalding impact of the screams never diminishes.
Once again, Wilt have created a wholly absorbing piece of music. As it ebbs, a melancholy guitar solo, backed by somber strumming and a slow-rocking groove, tugs hard at the heart-strings even as it casts a spell. When it flows, like rapids through a wilderness canyon, it gets the heart pounding, and as the music towers, the anguish in the rapidly vibrating guitar is again unmistakable.
The band did tell us that we (and they probably meant all of us) have reserves of resilience to get through all the tragedies and grievances, and so “Resilience” is the name of the final track. Again, Wilt deploy slowly ringing notes that cast a spell, enlivened by a hefty bass and gripping beats. This one also builds gradually, bringing in more and more musical facets and changing moods as it expands in sweep and power.
Despite the song’s title, the music doesn’t seem to see the world through rose-colored glasses. It stalks and heaves forward, as if weighted by chains, but also becomes lonely and reflective. Ultimately it flares in a kind of fierce determination. Near the end, a melodic guitar solo strikes in piercing tones, ringing like chimes. It doesn’t sound hopeful, maybe more like a strident plea.
The masterful Adam Burke created the cover art for Huginn. Vendetta and Wilt are releasing it on 12″ vinyl (black and limited color editions) and digipack CD, as well as digitally, and shirts are also available adorned by the artwork of Misanthropic-Art.